Dr. Patricia Farrell on Medika Life

Are Supplements Really the Answer to Anxiety, Depression, and Everything Else?

Perhaps you’d like to try something organic, or you don’t want medication, and you want to try supplements. Should you, and are they all that?

Organic products are receiving more attention not only because we believe they are better for us, but we are concerned about disease and forever chemicals. The interest in organics is such that the market is growing daily.

USDA does not have official statistics on U.S. organic retail sales, but information is available from industry sources. U.S. sales of organic products were an estimated $28.4 billion in 2012 — over 4 percent of total food sales — and will reach an estimated $35 billion in 2014, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. Yes, the data is a bit behind the times right now.

The organic food market is bursting thanks to the pandemic and consumer awareness of the dangers of food additives (can you say estrogen-like chemicals or red dye 40?). It is now worth USD 135920 million in 2022 and is forecast to a readjusted size of USD 201700 million by 2028… Yes, this sounds like mixing apples and oranges because the figures are so out of synch. The first figure was all organic products, and this is only food.

But what about supplements instead of food or in addition to food? Would they help us tackle the psychological problems our current state of affairs is raining down on us? In 2020, the supplement market was $61B, and by 2028, it will be slightly over $128B. It’s growing, but is it helping us?

First the Market Entry Then the FDA

The question that should be foremost in consumers’ minds regarding supplements of any kind ought to be whether or not they are safe and, second, do they do what their manufacturers claim they do. This is where the significant challenges for consumers lie.

On their website, the FDA says: Since companies can often introduce a dietary supplement to the market without notifying the FDA, the agency’s role in regulating supplements primarily begins after the product enters the marketplace. But that’s not all the information the FDA provides.

The FDA monitors adverse event reports submitted by dietary supplement companies, health care professionals, and consumers as well as other product complaints for valuable information about the safety of products once they are on the market.

In other words, the consumer or healthcare professionals are responsible for reporting adverse reactions to supplements. As far as the FDA is concerned, they watch for inaccurate labeling, claims to treat or cure disease or make claims from a single clinical study the company may have supported.

The Mental Health Supplement Market

Many supplements aim at a market where consumers want to improve their health or immune system, ward off aging, reduce stress, and help with insomnia, reduce anxiety, and even depression.

What does the research show? There is an interesting relationship between depression, diet, and inflammation. Inflammation plays a pivotal role in this mental health disorder, so anything in our diet that may decrease inflammation may have a beneficial effect on mood.

If diet plays a vital role in depression and other mental health disorders, might supplements be a replacement for what is lacking in the diet? But there is a caveat here pertaining to supplements.

Using primarily the National Library of Medicine journal database and SciFinder for current reports, 47 toxic compounds in 55 species from 46 plant families were found to demonstrate harmful effects due to hepatic, cardiovascular, central nervous system, and digestive system toxicity. The products most purchased by consumers include Echinacea, ginseng, Ginkgo, and saw palmetto.

Researchers, however, advise that problems patients experience cannot be attributed to supplements or diet alone. An assortment of factors enters into any patient’s diagnosis and treatment. Three factors appear interesting: inflammation, diet, and depression.

Currently, there is no blood test for diagnosing depression. Often levels of thyroid hormones or possibly vitamin D deficiency might be used to assume that they could be causing depression. But there is no test for depression itself.

Although there are many articles on the benefits of supplements, we must remind ourselves that too much of a good thing is not good. For example, anyone who wishes to prevent deficiencies in vitamins and begins megadosing could experience problems with their GI tract, fatigue, cramps, or even in some cases, mild nerve damage, confusion, or memory problems. If you’re concerned about depression and anxiety, that’s the last thing you want to have happen to you.

Inflammation may be detected by several blood tests looking for specific levels of proteins but the way to remediate this isn’t necessarily by taking supplements.

Regarding anxiety, there is intense interest in finding biomarkers for anxiety to make the diagnosis as accurate as possible. There is potential in the research, but no biological means of measuring it has been found to date. However, several organic compounds have been suggested as having qualities that would lead to decreases in anxiety. As always, there is no assurance that any of these products is absolutely 100% safe, pure, or helpful. It is as always, let the buyer beware.

One substance that has been suggested to be helpful for anxiety or depression is kava, yet we know that it also can potentially be a danger to the liver. Other supplements can be dangerous to your physical or mental health.

The advisories are out there, but many people believe that if it’s available for purchase in a store, it’s safe and effective, and that is questionable.

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Pat Farrell PhD
Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.


Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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