Can Probiotics Treat Depression?

Probiotics and depressionThe importance of the gut for overall health is now being increasingly recognised. The gut has several important roles in the body including the digestion of food, and the absorption and production of many nutrients. The gut also has a major influence on our immune system and is involved in the production of many hormones. Our digestive tract contains trillions of bacteria which help with the function of the gut. When bacteria levels (known as gut flora or probiotics) are out of balance it can have detrimental effects on our health. In fact, several studies have now confirmed that probiotic supplementation is beneficial for overall health and can help treat many diseases (not just related to the gut).

The role of the gut and probiotics for mental health has attracted increasing interest over the last decade although there has been little research investigating the effects of probiotic supplementation for the treatment of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Researchers have just published a study in the journal, Nutrition, investigating the effects of probiotic supplementation in people with depression [1].

In this randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, forty adults with depression were randomly allocated into one of two groups; probiotic supplementation or placebo for 8 weeks. The probiotic capsule contained three strains of bacteria: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium bifidum.

After 8 weeks of intervention, people who received the probiotic supplements experienced significantly greater improvements in mood compared to those on the placebo. In addition, people taking probiotics experienced the following:

  • Greater decreases in serum insulin, which indicates improvements in insulin resistance
  • Greater reductions in c-reactive protein (CRP) levels, which points to reduced inflammation
  • Greater increases in glutathione, which indicates improvements in antioxidant defences

This study provides initial support for the benefits of probiotics for people with depression and highlights the crucial relationship between the gut and the brain. If you want to improve mental wellbeing, then you must not neglect the health of your gut. This includes looking at the foods you eat, the medications you take, the toxins you are consuming, and your overall stress levels.


1. Akkasheh G, et al. Clinical and metabolic response to probiotic administration in patients with major depressive disorder: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Nutrition. 2015 Sep 28. pii: S0899-9007(15)00391-3. Pubmed link

Pharmaceuticals Compared to Natural Supplements For Depression

Medications compared to natural supplementsDepression is a mental health condition that affects a significant portion of the population. It is estimated that it affects up to 15-20 percent of people some time in their life, and can have devastating effects on social, occupational, physical and educational function.

The mainstay treatments for depression include psychological therapies and pharmaceutical antidepressants. The most popular pharmaceutical antidepressants are classed as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac®, Zoloft® and Paxil®.

Interest in natural supplements for depression has increased over the past decade. This is because many pharmaceutical antidepressants are associated with several side effects. These include weight gain, nausea, drowsiness and headache.

So how do natural supplements compare to drug-based treatments for depression?

Although many mainstream doctors will argue that there is no research to support the efficacy of natural supplements for depression, this is simply untrue. Below we review some studies where there were head-to-head comparisons between a natural supplement and a pharmaceutical antidepressant.


There have been 3 studies now comparing the spice saffron to an antidepressant for the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression. In one study, saffron was compared to fluoxetine (Prozac®) in people with depression over an 8-week period. The results revealed that both treatments were equally effective in reducing depressive symptoms [1].

In another study, Saffron was compared to imipramine (Tofranil®) and the same results were found (i.e., equally effective) [2].

In a recent review paper published in Human Psychopharmacology, it was concluded that taking a saffron supplement was more effective than a placebo, and equally effective to antidepressant medications for the treatment of mild-to-moderate severity of depression [3].

S-Adenosyl Methionine (SAMe)

SAMe is a naturally occurring compound in our body that has several functions. In particular, it is involved in a process called methylation. Methylation is important for the production of mood-boosting neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.

There have been several studies supporting the benefits of SAMe supplements for the treatment of depression and some studies even showing that taking both pharmaceutical antidepressants and SAMe works better than taking antidepressants alone [4].

In a recent study it was shown that SAMe was just as effective as escitalopram (Lexapro®) for the treatment of depression… 36% of people responded on SAMe, compared to 34% on escitalopram (although a similar response rate of 30% occurred in people on a placebo). Depression remitted completely in 28% of people on SAMe and escitalopram, but in only 17% on a placebo [5].

St John’s Wort

St John’s Wort has undergone the most investigation as a natural treatment for depression. Overall it has been concluded that it is significantly better than a placebo for the treatment of adult depression. In comparison to antidepressant medication (SSRIs) is was concluded in a comprehensive review of all studies, that St John’s Wort was as effective but with less side effects [6]. The main problem with St John’s Wort is that it interacts with many medications such as the contraceptive pill, so caution is advised when using this supplement.

Overall the findings indicate that there are several natural options for the treatment of depression (mild-to-moderate severity). More research is required and there are other natural options available, but the findings so far are very promising.


1. Akhondzadeh, B.A. et al. Comparison of petal of Crocus sativus L. and fluoxetine in the treatment of depressed outpatients: a pilot double-blind randomized trial. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Mar 30;31(2):439-42.

2. Akhondzadeh, S. et al. Comparison of Crocus sativus L. and imipramine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a pilot double-blind randomized trial [ISRCTN45683816]. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2004 Sep 2;4:12

3. Lopresti, A.L. & Drummond, P.D. Hum Psychopharmacol. Saffron (Crocus sativus) for depression: a systematic review of clinical studies and examination of underlying antidepressant mechanisms of action. 2014 Nov;29(6):517-27.
4. Levkovitz Y. Effects of S-adenosylmethionine augmentation of serotonin-reuptake inhibitor antidepressants on cognitive symptoms of major depressive disorder. J Affect Disord. 2012 Feb;136(3):1174-8.

5. Mischoulon D, et al. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial of S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe) versus escitalopram in major depressive disorder. J Clin Psychiatry. 2014 Apr;75(4):370-6.

6. Rahimi R, et al. Efficacy and tolerability of Hypericum perforatum in major depressive disorder in comparison with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors: a meta-analysis. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2009 Feb 1;33(1):118-27.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids For People With Bipolar Disorder

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
In the world of internet success stories, few industries are as lucrative supplement industry. On the internet you can buy supplements that claim to improve mental health, reduce risk of cancer, improve your libido, help cure psychological disorders and more (really, the only limit is your ability to think of something that needs fixing).

Omega-3 fatty acids are a naturally occurring fats found most-often in fish and some vegetables. They are purported to have many positive health effects ranging from improved cognitive aging, reduced inflammation and even helping to prevent cardiovascular disease. Unlike many supplements sold, omega-3 fatty acids have been studied in-depth. There is some evidence that another benefit to omega 3 fatty acids is as a potential alternative treatment to bipolar disorder.


Traditional treatment of bipolar disorder has historically been the ingestion lithium salts. The mood-stabilizing effects of lithium are well accepted. This powerful drug, while very effective, does tend to come with some unfortunate side effects.

These include everything from tremors and a ‘dazed’ feeling to potential birth defects when exposed in utero as well as potential negative long-term effects for those it is prescribed to. Furthermore, lithium is highly potent and risk of overdose is severe (and it’s impacts, when not fatal, can be long-lasting).

As effective as lithium can be for those with mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, alternatives would be welcomed and although there have been many alternatives developed in the last 50 years, these too come with their own side effects.

Enter Omega 3 Fatty Acids?

Fortunately, evidence suggests that Omega 3 Fatty Acids, among their many other purported benefits, also have a mood-stabilizing effect for patients suffering from bipolar disorder. A double-blind, placebo study indicates that patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder show signs of mood-related improvement over a 4 month period while administered omega-3 fatty acids.

The omega 3 fatty acids were administered twice daily, a randomly selected control group received identical looking capsules of olive oil. Because of the safety of these substances, relatively high doses were used to avoid dosage that would be below an effective amount. Over the course of the study, a significant portion of the experimental group showed signs of improvement in their disorder.

Although the effects were small and the research needs to be further investigated, the possibility that a relatively harmless and naturally occurring supplement can help stabilize individuals with mood disorders is exciting. If nothing else, it is another promising reason to purchase omega 3 fatty acid supplements or at least increase your intake of fish high in omega-3s, such as salmon.

If you would like to find out more about how omega-3 fatty acids can help people with bipolar disorder, then please watch this video: