Cut your depression in half: the benefit of targeted nutritional support when taking antidepressants.

About one out of four women in the US are taking antidepressants.  While one can speculate on why this is the case, and as to whether drug therapy is getting at the root of their symptoms, those on SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) like Prozac©, Zoloft©, Celexa©, Lexapro© and Paxil© should be aware that some simple nutritional factors can enhance the benefits and reduce the side effects of these prescription drugs.

Two studies show that moderate supplemental amounts of zinc and folic acid provided near 50% of additional improvement in depression symptoms for women taking SSRI antidepressants over a 10-12 week interval.   The folic acid study looked at Prozac only, the zinc treatment group were taking a variety of SSRI antidepressants.  In both cases it wasn’t entirely clear if the benefits were due to individuals making up for a deficiency, or if other cofactors were also at play.  The amounts used were in the range for routine supplemental use:  25 mg/day for zinc, and 500 mcg/day for folic acid.  To put the folate dose in perspective, 800 mcg/day is the dose advised during pregnancy.

It was also noted that the typical side effects of Prozac were about a third lower in the folate supplemented group.

Another interesting finding is that the group taking folate had a significant drop in their homocysteine level.  Homocysteine is a metabolic byproduct that is implicated in both vascular and degenerative diseases of the brain, notably Alzheimer’s dementia.

There were no negative findings associated with supplement use in either case.

Conclusion: if you are taking an SSRI medication for depression, consider taking both folic acid 500 mcg/day and zinc 25 mg/day for at least the first 4 months of therapy.

Alec Coppen*, John Bailey “Enhancement of the antidepressant action of fluoxetine by folic acid” Journal of Affective Disorders 60 (2000) 121–130

Ranjbar E, Shams J, et. al.  “Effects of zinc supplementation on efficacy of antidepressant therapy, inflammatory cytokines, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor in patients with major depression.” Nutritional Neuroscience. 2014 Feb;17(2):65-71.

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