New Study Finds Vitamin Supplements Don’t Protect Against Depression

But there's another healthy way to keep your mental health in check.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
March 17, 2020

Those of us who grew up taking Flintstones vitamins were taught that they would help us grow up to be big and strong, as if they were magical fruit-flavored chalk chunks that could keep us healthy. While vitamin supplements are beneficial in many ways, taking them as a way of treating or warding off depression is ineffective new research from the European Association for the Study of Obesity has found.

The European Commission-funded study, called MooDFOOD, is the largest randomized clinical trial to study the effects of nutrition on the prevention of major depressive disorder. Participants from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain were randomized to either take nutritional supplements containing folic acid, vitamin D, zinc, selenium or a placebo. Half of the participants also received a behavioral lifestyle intervention intended to change dietary behaviors and patterns. The results concluded that taking nutritional supplements daily does not prevent depression.

“Daily intake of nutritional supplements over a year does not effectively prevent the onset of a major depressive episode in this sample,” Mariska Bot, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at Amsterdam University Medical Center, said in a statement. “Nutritional supplements were not better than placebo. Therapeutic sessions aimed at making changes towards a healthy dietary behaviour did also not convincingly prevent depression.” 

While vitamin supplements were not shown to thwart the onset of depression, the study found that a Mediterranean style diet — high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil, and low in red meat and full-fat dairy products — may reduce the risk of developing the mental illness. “Several studies within, and outside the five year MooDFOOD project show that consuming a healthy dietary pattern is important for European citizens, not only for physical health, but it may also help to prevent depressive symptoms,” two of the researchers involved with the study said in a statement.

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticRolling StoneCNNFodor’sLifehackerReader’s Digest and Playboy.

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This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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