Mental Health & Happiness: The Best Supplements
Many common mental health issues can be caused or exacerbated by nutritional deficiencies. Just as we can optimize our bodies with the right supplementation, so too can we help optimize our minds with the right mental health supplements. Here are the best supplements to consider.
Do a massive meta-study of all the fish oil research and you'll notice a trend regarding mental health: fish oils help on various fronts, from depression to cognitive decline.
Progressive mental health professionals are even "prescribing" diets high in fish or fish oil supplements to their patients, either as an adjunct to prescription meds or as a pre-drug intervention. While we can't say fish oil is the "cure" for anything, we can certainly say it helps minimize existing symptoms and perhaps prevent future problems.
A recent study also looked at omega-3s and the effects of stress. Stress and the associated inflammation and cortisol spike it causes are obviously not good for physical or mental health.
In the study, those taking 2.5 grams of omega-3s were able to suppress the damage caused by a stressful event, decreasing cortisol and a certain pro-inflammatory protein by 19% and 33%, respectively. We can't stop stress from happening, but fish oil does seem to reduce the negative effects of that stress.
Besides the anti-inflammatory benefits, omega-3 fatty acids may help with cognitive disorders by increasing cell permeability. That's good news because this permeability allows serotonin – the "feel good" chemical that carries messages around your brain – to more easily pass through brain cell membranes.
Finally, low-T is associated with depressive symptoms, and omega-3 fatty acids can help optimize your testosterone levels.
What to Take
Most benefits are seen with a relatively hefty dose of omega-3s, so you need a highly concentrated fish oil supplement. One serving per day (4 softgels) of Flameout® takes care of it. I'd suggest taking all four softgels at night to tamp down surplus cortisol before bed.
Not only has science recently discovered how beneficial it is for heart health (even if you don't work out), creatine monohydrate may also be helpful for mood. It might even help deter Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.
New studies show that creatine seems to help with depression or "depressed mood." While most studies have been done on those with major depressive disorders and even meth addiction (people with altered brain bioenergetics), it's not a leap to say that regular creatine usage could play a role in improving or preserving brain health.
Creatine supplementation has even been shown to increase mental sharpness and brain efficiency when performing strenuous mental tasks, at least in people who initially had low levels of creatine, like vegans and other meat-deniers.
What to Take
Most studies are using 3 to 10 grams of creatine per day. Five grams should do the trick for most of us.
Recent research found that curcumin may help with depression, both mild depression and major depressive disorder (MDD).
How does it do that? Well, chronic inflammation has been unequivocally linked to depression and other mental issues. In fancy PhD-speak, inflammation is a critical mediatory in the pathophysiology of mood disorders. Curcumin helps keep excess inflammation at bay by scavenging the free radicals that create it.
Other research is looking into treating schizophrenia with curcumin. And curcumin has even been shown to improve your working memory.
What to Take
You can't eat enough turmeric from spicy Indian food to get all the varied benefits of curcumin (dammit). In fact, even most curcumin supplements have terrible bioavailability issues. We improved that a little by adding piperine, but now there's something better: solid lipid curcumin particles.
The result? A 95-times increase in free-curcumin blood concentration, along with a much longer activity. All you need is a single 400-mg capsule daily. It keeps working for 24 hours. Biotest's Micellar Curcumin™ is the top choice. Honestly, if you're not taking solid lipid curcumin particles, you're really not taking curcumin.
This one may seem like a stretch, but the relationship between sex and emotional well-being is pretty clear. Lack of sex or the inability to perform can cause anxiety, stress, depressive symptoms, insecurity, and the desire to post nasty Instagram replies.
Male sexual performance can be hampered by prostate issues and blood flow problems (think: puny erections). A formulation that promotes a healthy prostate size and function – and better blood flow to the penis – can help prevent those issues.
What to Take
The cheekily named P-Well™ supplement is packed with all the potent natural substances a man needs to pump up his vascular sexual health.
On the flip, sexual health and desire can also be affected by testosterone production, as you'd expect. Eurycoma longifolia, aka tongkat ali, can help direct the testes to crank out more testosterone. But there's a less obvious benefit: it inhibits rho kinases, which can lead to bigger, firmer boners. (Here's all the sexy science.)
A supplement like Alpha Male® contains everything needed to naturally pump up T levels and pump up... other things. Take 1-2 capsules in the morning on an empty stomach and repeat in the evening.
Storytime! Once upon a time, 126 people diagnosed with mild to moderate depression were each given a bottle of pills. They were told to take one tablet per day as a depression treatment.
Two weeks later, half of those people reported feeling a little better. Four weeks after that, those same people reported feeling significantly better. The symptoms of their depression had lessened. Anxiety had decreased too. The other half of the group? No improvements at all.
So what's going on here? Well, these folks were part of a study looking at the role magnesium plays in depression. Half of them took cheap magnesium and the other half, the control group, took a placebo. The magnesium users felt a whole lot better.
So is depression a magnesium deficiency? Well, it's not as simple as "magnesium cures depression" – although some medical professionals have been making that claim since at least 1967 – but it's pretty clear that a magnesium deficiency at least exacerbates the problem.
We've known for a while that magnesium deficiency is linked to depression, anxiety, and inflammation. But this is the first randomized clinical trial to really test out magnesium's ability to reduce or control the symptoms of depression.
Perhaps not coincidentally, most people these days are at least a little deficient in magnesium, and it's estimated that 15 million American adults suffer from depression. That's almost 7% of the population. Is this simply the result of widespread magnesium deficiency? For now, we can at least say that the two are related.
Ironically, prescription antidepressants can be terribly depressing, with side effects like sexual problems, emotional numbness, and suicidal thoughts being reported by about half of all users.
If those with mild symptoms can get off the prescription meds, and if those with moderate symptoms could reduce the amount they use (or avoid the need for a second med), that would be a very good thing. For the rest of us, magnesium supplementation could at least be a hedge against developing a case of the sads.
What to Take
This study used magnesium chloride at 248 mg per day. But for best results, choose fully chelated magnesium (glyceniate chelate) for better absorption. Those who train hard might want to use a slightly higher serving size, about 400 mg.
- Burhani MD et al. Fish oil and depression: The skinny on fats.J Integr Neurosci. 2017;16(s1):S115-S124. PubMed.
- Madison AA et al. Omega-3 supplementation and stress reactivity of cellular aging biomarkers: an ancillary substudy of a randomized, controlled trial in midlife adults. Mol Psychiatry. 2021 Jul;26(7):3034–3042. PMC.
- Jensen TK et al. Associations of Fish Oil Supplement Use With Testicular Function in Young Men. JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Jan 3;3(1):e1919462. PubMed.
- Spira AP et al. Impact of sleep on the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2014 Nov;27(6):478–483. PMC.
- Kious BM et al. Creatine for the Treatment of Depression. Biomolecules. 2019 Sep;9(9):406. PMC.
- Ng QX et al. Clinical Use of Curcumin in Depression: A Meta-Analysis. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2017 Jun 1;18(6):503-508. PubMed.
- Tarleton EK et al. Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial. PLoS One. 2017 Jun 27;12(6):e0180067. PubMed.