Mood-Boosting Supplements for Depression, Anxiety & Stress
When you have depression, anxiety, or stress, happiness can sometimes feel out of your reach. Fortunately you have a lot more influence over your mood than it may feel. With a few well-placed biohacks, you can take your mood to new levels. One way is by focusing on nutritional deficiencies that affect brain function and mood. The best supplements that act as natural remedies for depression, anxiety and stress can have a major impact on your mood. Work with your physician to find the best protocol for managing your symptoms, and never stop taking prescription medication without the advice of your doctor.
Ahead, the best natural supplements to dial down depression and anxiety, boost your mood, and support your brain.
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What is depression?
Depression, anxiety, and stress are all interconnected. Anxiety is when you frequently feel so much fear and worry that it interferes with your day-to-day life. More and more people experience anxiety, with nearly 40% of Americans saying they are more anxious now than a year ago. Depression takes many forms, from seasonal affective disorder to situational (temporary) depression, to chronic or major depression.
Anxiety and depression are forms of stress on the body and brain, and chronic stress can induce either. Researchers found that long-term stress slows down the growth of new brain cells, and deteriorates the brain cells you already have. This added stress on the brain, combined with stress-driven inflammation and increased oxidative stress, are all linked to depression.
Best supplements for depression, anxiety and stress
Depression, anxiety and stress are some of the most difficult health conditions to tackle, because there are so many factors that tie into your mood. But you can hack your brain. In addition to lifestyle changes, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication, research shows that eliminating certain nutrient deficiencies can also help relieve depression. Check out the book Head Strong for powerful ways to build a stronger brain, and consider supporting your emotional health with these mood-boosting supplements.
5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for boosting happiness, emotional well-being, and melatonin (for healthy sleep). Your body makes 5-HTP from the amino acid tryptophan, but can sometimes struggle with converting it all the way into that happy chemical. Supplementing with 5-HTP — which readily crosses the blood-brain-barrier to where you need it most — is the easiest way to organically support balanced levels of the mood-lifting neurotransmitter serotonin.
- Dose: 100-300 mg per day.
- Time taken: Take 1-3 100mg capsules before bed, or spread evenly throughout your day.
- Tips & warnings:
Serotonin can’t do your mood much good from your bloodstream, but is too large to cross the blood-brain-barrier once formed. To get the most out of your 5-HTP supplement, take it with an EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) supplement, also found in green tea. EGCG prevents 5-HTP from being converted into serotonin until it reaches your brain.
Taking 5-HTP for an extended period of time may also reduce your body’s ability to produce dopamine, so should not be used as a long-term solution for depression.
Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, the neurotransmitter necessary for good sleep. This means taking 5-HTP before bed may give you the extra stress-reducing benefit of a better night’s sleep.
Zinc deficiency may cause symptoms of ADHD, memory disorders, and depression. Similarly to many antidepressants, zinc upregulates your expression of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a critical brain protein used for regulating mood and stress. In one Australian study, participants with the highest dietary zinc intake had 30-50% lower chance of developing depression than those with the lowest zinc intake. In human studies, serum zinc levels were reduced in those suffering from depression. Even further, those with more severe depression had the lowest levels of zinc.
- Dose: 15mg zinc orotate and 1-2mg copper orotate per day.
- Time taken: Take once daily with a meal, but avoid combining with meals or supplements high in iron, calcium, and phytates, which can decrease absorption of zinc.
- Tips & warnings:
Major sources are meat, poultry, and oysters, so vegans or vegetarians may be more prone to deficiencies.
Your body cannot store zinc, so it’s best to take a little regularly.
Combining zinc and iron supplements can decrease zinc absorption, so keep them separate in your diet.
Zinc can reduce copper absorption, which is why it’s beneficial to take copper when supplementing zinc. Zinc and copper also work best when taken together, and form the antioxidant copper-zinc superoxide dismutase (CuZnSOD), one of your body’s most critical natural defense mechanisms.
Glutathione is the most powerful antioxidant in your body, and helps with detoxing and protecting your cells from inflammation-triggering oxidative stress. Numerous studies have shown that depressed people show decreased glutathione levels, putting them at risk for greater oxidative stress and lower overall antioxidants levels.
Your brain is especially vulnerable to oxidative stress, and more and more data supports the theory that oxidative stress plays a major role in psychiatric disorders such as depression. Think of a glutathione supplement as your brain’s extra stress-defense.
- Dose: 1000+ mg daily
- Time taken: Take 2-3 capsules daily, increasing if you expose yourself to inflammatory foods or toxins.
- Tips & warnings: Take vitamin C to increase your body’s natural glutathione production.
Methyl folate + B12
According to a study in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, roughly 30% of depression patients are folate-deficient, and those with a deficiency experienced worsened symptoms. Due to a common mutation in the MTHFR gene, many people don’t produce the enzyme necessary to convert folate into its bioactive form, and supplements can greatly help. 
Folate deficiency is linked to lower levels of serotonin, the mood-boosting neurotransmitter known for feelings of happiness.  A folate deficiency can also make it more difficult for your body to respond to antidepressant drugs. Several studies show that folate supplementation increases the effectiveness of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), both common antidepressants. 
- Dose: 800mcg DFE of folate, with 5mg+ of Methyl-B12 (as methylcobalamin or hydroxocobalamin).
- Forms: Capsule and/or lozenge
- Time taken: Daily once daily with food.
- Tips & warnings: Methyl folate supplementation works best in combination with vitamin B12, and most people are also deficient in B12. Methyl B-12 is essential for DNA synthesis, and supports healthy brain cells and nerve tissue to keep you sharp and on top of your game. Folate and B12 are both required for mental function; a deficiency in one can lead to a deficiency in the other.
L-tyrosine is an amino acid that boosts your mood and improves resilience to physical and mental stress. Your brain uses it as a building block to increase the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Dopamine is commonly known as the “feel good” neurotransmitter and is responsible for the happy feeling associated with experiences like sex or hugs, while epinephrine and norepinephrine are necessary for responding to stress. Tyrosine may help improve depressive symptoms in dopanine-deficient individuals, but has little direct effect on depression in other cases.
However, supplementing L-tyrosine may help you to keep your cool in stressful situations. In one study, supplementation reduced the negative mental effects of physical and psychosocial stresses experienced by cadets during combat training. Other studies have shown that tyrosine supplements helped enhance cognitive performance in stressful situations. Your body naturally makes L-tyrosine, but it depletes under stress, and many people’s bodies can’t keep up with production against today’s stressors.
- Dose: 500-2000mg L-tyrosine per day.
- Time taken: whenever you want.
- Tips & warnings: Your body also uses L-tyrosine to produce the thyroid hormone thyroxine. If you experience hyperthyroidism or Graves disease, supplementation could worsen these conditions.
Your body requires sunshine to manufacture vitamin D — so it gets a lot harder in the winter months. While those dwelling in nudist colonies on the equator may produce enough vitamin D, the rest of us can seriously benefit from supplements. As many as three out of four American adults are vitamin D deficient. Research suggests that drops in vitamin D cause the lowered serotonin characteristic of seasonal depression, and that supplementing with vitamin D3 can improve these symptoms. Researcher have also linked vitamin D deficiency and depression in general. Several studies link vitamin D supplements and light therapy to improved depression scores.
- Dose: 1,000 IU Vitamin D3 / 25 pounds of body weight.
- Time taken: In the morning
- Tips & warnings: People with brown/black skin don’t convert sunlight into vitamin D as quickly as lighter skinned people. If you’re brown-skinned, a safe bet is 1,500 IU / 25 pounds of body weight. If unsure, you should always test your blood levels to monitor your body’s needs. For those concerned about toxicity from supplementation: with sufficient vitamin A, it’s nearly impossible to overdose on vitamin D.
One highly potent and time-tested natural remedy for depression and anxiety is the spice saffron. Studies show that 30 mg per day is sufficient to reduce symptoms of depression. In fact, researchers found that saffron is just as effective in reducing symptoms of mild to moderate depression as imipramine (Tofranil) and fluoxetine (Prozac), without some of the undesirable side effects of these prescription drugs.
Learn more: The benefits of saffron for mood and weight
- Dose: Studies show 30-50mg daily as effective doses. Because saffron is so expensive by itself, it is often included in combination with other synergistic compounds.
- Time taken: Any
- Tips & warnings: Some possible side effects of saffron include dizziness, dry mouth, coughing, heartburn, or worsened asthma or bipolar effects.