Can supplements treat depression and anxiety?

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The use of herbal and dietary supplements is on the rise. According to a recent article from the American Academy of Family Physicians, the use of herbal remedies and dietary supplements jumped from 34% in 1990 to 42% in 1997; this trend undoubtedly is increasing and with some justification. Data supports the idea that some herbal remedies and dietary supplements may be effective in alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety.

While physicians should not encourage the use of certain supplements, negativity towards them could hinder patient disclosure about what herbal remedies and or dietary supplements he or she is taking. Conversely, recognizing the possible validity of using supplements opens up dialog between patient and doctor in which collaboration that minimizes risk can occur. The following is an article from the American Academy of Family Physicians that discusses this issue:

Use of complementary and alternative medicine has increased over the past decade. A variety of studies have suggested that this use is greater in persons with symptoms or diagnoses of anxiety and depression. Data support the effectiveness of some popular herbal remedies and dietary supplements; in some of these products, particularly kava, the potential for benefit seems greater than that for harm with short-term use in patients with mild to moderate anxiety. Inositol has been found to have modest effects in patients with panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Physicians should not encourage the use of St. John’s wort, valerian, Sympathyl, or passionflower for the treatment of anxiety based on small or inconsistent effects in small studies. Although the evidence varies depending on the supplement and the anxiety disorder, physicians can collaborate with patients in developing dietary supplement strategies that minimize risks and maximize benefits. (Am Fam Physician 2007;76:549-56. Copyright © 2007 American Academy of Family Physicians.)

Use of complementary and alternative medicine in all of its varieties, such as herbal remedies and dietary supplements, increased from 34 percent of the overall U.S. population in 1990 to 42 percent in 1997.1 Use appears to be twice as great in persons reporting anxiety and depression than in those reporting any other problem, except for back and neck pain.1 Based on results of two large-scale community surveys,2,3 investigators have noted an association between both panic disorder and major depression and the use of complementary and alternative medicine.

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