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A lot of guys are surprised when they ask me if there are supplements they can take instead of prescription mood meds and I say, “Yes.” Many docs recommend prescription medications because they’re so well studied. Supplements are trickier because they don’t have that same amount of backing. Yet there is evidence for some of them. Below are my favorites—with caveats, of course.
Ideally, talk to a doc before taking them to be sure they won’t interact with other meds. And keep in mind that the effects of supplements are milder than those of prescription products. They shouldn’t be used as a strategy to treat severe mental illness without working closely with a psychiatrist. If you have severe depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or suicidal thoughts, some supplements can exacerbate these conditions.
Since supplements aren’t approved by the FDA, scan the label for an NSF, Informed Choice, or other third-party certification; it’s the best way to know if they contain what they say they do. If your mood symptoms are mild, here’s what we know so far about what may help you feel better.
Useful for: Mild depression, meaning that you have some symptoms but can get through the day without them affecting your life too much. (If you have no idea if yours are mild, check out a PHQ-9 ratings scale like
What to take: Start with one gram a day; you can go up to two. Fish oil has two components: EPA and DHA. Look for at least 60 percent EPA (40 DHA). Be patient: It may take six to eight weeks to have an effect.
What else to know: If your cholesterol is high, keep tabs on your labs; fish oil may slightly increase LDL, which isn’t always ideal (although it may also lower triglycerides and blood pressure, which is good). And it can thin the blood, so talk to a doc before taking this if you’re on blood thinners.
Useful for: Stress and anxiety. May also help with insomnia, but not on the first night.
What to take: The dose used in research studies tends to be 300mg twice a day for at least six weeks.
What else to know: Don’t expect results from adding it to a smoothie at the juice bar; you need it every day for several weeks for it to work. Be careful if you’ve had a hormone-sensitive illness such as prostate cancer; this herb may affect hormone levels.
Useful for: Mild depression; may be useful if you can’t take fish oil.
What to take: It can boost energy, so start low and go slow. I suggest starting at 200mg per day for a week; go to 400 the next week. I don’t recommend more than 800mg twice a day. It can take six weeks to notice a change.
What else to know: It’s been studied for depression since the 1970s and is approved as an antidepressant in some countries in Europe.
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Useful for: Mild depression and mental fatigue, although more studies need to be done. Research is mixed on whether it helps with anxiety.
What to take: Research has found that 340mg once or twice a day for at least six weeks may boost your mood and help you feel more emotionally stable.
What else to know: Look for a product that contains active ingredients in the concentrations that have been studied; that’s one with 3 percent of the component called “rosavins” and at least 1 percent “salidrosides.”
Useful for: Performance anxiety, like doing well in a tense meeting or on a test; it may reduce the body’s stress response during those tasks. Effects are mild. May also help with attention and reaction time.
What to take: 200 mg; many studies suggest it works in about an hour to create a calm but alert state. (It’s one of my favorite supplements.)
What else to know: L-theanine is in green and black teas, but there’s only about 6mg of L-theanine in a cup of tea.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Men’s Health.