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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dietery Supplements & Mental Health

A few notes taken from a presentation by Edward R. Blonz, PhD, UCSF

Some of the most commonly used dietary supplements in self-treatment for mood and state of mind problems are:
  • St. John's Wort
  • Rhodiola
  • L-Tryptophan
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  • Sam-e
  • L-theanine 
  • Valerian
According to Dr. Blonz, some of these have litttle-known side-effects (such as, photosensitivity in St John's Wort) and all of them, except the Omega-3 fatty Acids and Sam-e have been subjected to only very small studies or studies that have produced inconsistent results.  In this country, anyway, there is very little regulation so the preparation you purchase may or may not have in it what it says it does on the label.  Some, such as L-tryptophan, or 5-HTP, a pre-curser of L-tryptophan have, currently a safety question about them.  In that case, since they produce extra seratonin, it may be that seratonin will appear in parts of the body other than the brain and can lead to Seratonin Syndrome.
The main message of his lecture was to be cautious when opting to use these things.  They do have factors in them that, in some, have an effect of mood stabilization, some purport to alleviate stress, and some address anxiety or reduce depression; the problem is, you may be getting varied doses, regardless of what the label says.  Also, I would add, self-diagnosing can be a risky business; it usually helps to get the objective opinion of someone else, best if it be someone trained in the field.
The two exceptions on the above list are the fatty acids and sam-e.  The fatty acids, which are plentiful in fish, do lots of good things for our health such as reduce the risk of heart disease.  But they also seem to affect depression.  A real study was done on depressed children who were treated with the fatty acids and the result was a 50% reduction in depression!  Check clinical for more about this study.  By the way, the ALA produced in plants is sometimes touted as being the same as the DHA+EPA that is what is found in fish but, in fact, it has a very low conversion rate in the body to this form.
Sam-e is something our body makes itself.  Sometimes, some people have a disruption in this process, in which case, it would be a good supplement.  SAM-e is used in the body to make everything and it helps many problems, notably arthritis.  In addition, it seems to have a positive effect on mood.
I happen to be what some would (and have!) called a "health nut" and so I do avail myself of supplemental vitamins, minerals and herbs.  But, after this compelling lecture, I think I, myself, will be a little more judicious in my use of these things and will look more to my diet for these nutrients.  A couple of exceptions are Calcium which most people above age 30 will do well to supplement and, vitamin D which has been recently discovered to be epidemically absent in our systems (esp. in northern areas).
Dr. Blonz recommended Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database as a reliable site to use for information on these topics (be careful, there are a lot of salespeople on the internet posing as information sources) and I like it too.
Take care of yourself.  Take care of your health.  Just make considered choices.

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  1. Nice Post: Thanks for sharing this post. Keep it up.

  2. Ah, some sought-after encouragement. Thank you, Calotren! Glad you liked the post.