Life is full of emotional ups and downs, from happy moments to stressful periods in which just about everything seems to trigger frustration, sadness and even situational depression.
If you’re going through a difficult period in life, using a mood boosting supplement may help to make things easier.
The best mood boosting supplements improve your feelings and thoughts in several different ways, from boosting your production of mood-enhancing chemicals to enhancing your mental function and performance.
While these supplements shouldn’t be viewed as treatments for mental health conditions like major depression or anxiety disorders, they can act as a valuable part of your personal toolkit for maintaining mental wellbeing.
Below, we’ve covered what mood boosting vitamins and supplements are, as well as how they may work to enhance your thoughts, feelings and moods.
We’ve also shared some of the best supplements for lifting your mood and making progress in life when the odds feel stacked against you.
Mood boosting supplements are over-the-counter products that are designed to improve your feelings, thoughts and certain aspects of your general cognitive function. They’re occasionally referred to as “brain supplements” or “mood pills.”
Most supplements for improving your moods and feelings contain vitamins, minerals, nutrients and herbal ingredients.
Before we get into the specifics of mood supplements and other brain health supplements, it’s important to get one thing out of the way. Mood boosting supplements aren’t medications, and they aren’t designed to treat mental health disorders.
This means that if you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition, you shouldn’t use a mood boosting supplement as a replacement for your medication, or for proven mental health treatments such as psychotherapy.
Instead, it’s best to think of natural supplements for your mood as general tools that may help to support a stable, happy mood in your everyday life.
It’s also important to understand that the science behind many nutrient supplements isn’t always perfect and that we’re still in the process of learning how many of these substances might work to support your mental state.
Put simply, mood boosting supplements should be viewed as optional extras that might help you to feel better, not as proven “cure-alls” for treating issues such as depression or anxiety.
So, how do these supplements actually work? Over the years, researchers have studied lots of ingredients for potential beneficial effects on mood and quality of life, with numerous interesting discoveries along the way.
Many of the ingredients used in mood boosting supplements appear to work by enhancing your body’s production of neurotransmitters — chemicals that are involved in regulating your feelings and thoughts.
Two neurotransmitters that often pop up in this research are serotonin and dopamine. The first of these neurotransmitters, serotonin, is thought to moderate your levels of happiness, anxiety, focus and general emotional stability.
Low levels of serotonin are associated with some mood disorders, including clinical depression and anxiety.
Dopamine, on the other hand, is primarily involved in the mental processes of learning, reward and memory. It’s known as a “feel good” chemical that plays a role in regulating your feelings, controlling your attention and providing a source of motivation to continue with tasks.
Many mood boosting supplements work — or at least, claim to work — by increasing your levels of one or both of these neurotransmitters.
Others work by supporting your cognitive health in general. For example, many supplements for boosting your moods contain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and other substances that are linked to a reduced risk of cognitive impairment.
Overall, mood boosting supplements follow the general “rule” of dietary supplements: the active ingredients are much, much more important than the brand name.
Because of this, we’ve focused on specific ingredients to look for, rather than brand-name pills, drinks and other products that claim to make you feel happier, increase your energy levels and deal with issues such as depressive symptoms.
While there’s no “best” mood boosting supplement for everyone, research suggests that several popular supplement ingredients may offer benefits for your serotonin levels, moods and general mental wellbeing.
We’ve listed these ingredients below, along with scientific research to back up each ingredient’s potential mood-enhancing effects.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that your body uses for everything from maintaining strong and healthy bones to reducing inflammation, managing cell growth and metabolizing glucose.
Studies suggest that low levels of vitamin D may play a role in the symptoms of depression. For example, a review published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine in 2020 concluded that serum D levels are inversely associated with a person’s risk of depression.
Your body gets most of its vitamin D from sunlight, as well as from dietary sources such as fish, mushrooms, milk and fortified cereals.
Some research suggests that vitamin D supplements may help to improve mood in people with depression. In one meta-analysis of four trials, researchers found that people who used vitamin D supplements showed improvements in their ratings of depression symptoms.
However, they noted that these findings should be considered tentative, as the number of trials on vitamin D and depression is currently limited and the quality of research is mixed.
The B vitamins are a group of vitamins that play critical roles in your health, including allowing your body to form red blood cells and produce energy from the nutrients in food.
Several B vitamins are also associated with improvements in brain function and mood. In one review published in the journal Nutrients, researchers linked the B vitamins folate (vitamin B9), B6 and B12 to either neurotransmitter production or general healthy brain function.
Some research also suggests that supplementing B vitamins may help to lower the severity of depression symptoms in people who use antidepressants.
For example, a randomized controlled trial published in The Open Neurology Journal in 2013 found people with depression with low normal vitamin B12 levels who received a vitamin B12 treatment in addition to antidepressants showed larger improvements than their peers.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that B vitamins will treat depression symptoms when they’re taken without medication.
Like vitamin D, many B vitamins can be found in foods, such as leafy vegetables and protein sources like poultry, fish, red meat and dairy products. Many multivitamin supplements also contain B vitamins. You may also want to check out Chaga mushroom benefits, which are full of B complex vitamins.
Omega-3 fatty acids are naturally-occurring fats that are found in certain foods, including fatty fish, plant-based cooking oils, as well as some seeds and nuts. They’re also widely available as supplements, including in fish oil capsules.
Although omega-3 supplements are best known for their effects on heart health, some research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may also play a key role in providing protection against some mood disorders.
For example, research has found that deficits in some omega-3 acids are a contributing factor to mood disorders, and that omega-3 supplementation may offer benefits for treating certain forms of depressive illness.
However, since doses, study designs and omega-3 ratios vary between studies, experts haven’t yet worked out exactly how omega-3 fatty acids may fit into the treatment of depression or other mood disorders.
If you’ve heard of creatine before, you probably associate it with improved exercise performance and muscle mass.
While creatine is best known as a fitness supplement, there’s also some scientific evidence that it may help to boost mood and improve your mental clarity.
For example, research has found that creatine may have antidepressant effects.Other studies have found that oral use of creatine may improve short-term memory and several other aspects of cognitive performance.
However, the exact relationship between creatine and potential improvements in mood isn’t yet fully understood.
Hypericum perforatum, or St. John’s wort, is a flowering plant that’s been used as an ingredient in traditional European medicine for thousands of years. It’s widely promoted as a supplement for boosting mood and treating mild forms of depression.
Although the evidence is mixed on St. John’s wort overall, some studies have found that it offers real benefits for people with mild to moderate depression. However, the scope of these studies is limited, and it’s unclear how long these benefits may last.
One thing to be aware of about St. John’s wort is that it can potentially interact with medications, including several common antidepressants. Some of these interactions can cause serious and potentially life-threatening health issues.
Because of this, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider before using St. John’s wort to improve your mood, especially if you use any existing medications for depression or anxiety.
N-acetylcysteine, or NAC, is an amino acid that’s available as a dietary supplement. It’s used as a treatment for some health conditions, including acetaminophen overdose and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Experts have studied the effects of NAC on mental health for decades, with promising results for mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and substance use disorders.
There’s also some evidence that NAC may offer benefits for people with mood disorder such as bipolar disorder, although findings vary from one study to another.
Currently, experts believe that more research is necessary to look into the effectiveness of NAC as a potential mood-enhancing substance.
Zinc is an essential mineral that your body needs for countless processes, including promoting optimal brain health and cellular metabolism. It’s found in several foods, including oysters, crab and red meat.
Over the years, researchers have investigated a potential link between zinc and the symptoms of depression, with intervention studies showing that zinc supplementation appears to promote a positive mood in people with depressive disorders.
Despite this, the potential mechanisms linking zinc and mood regulation aren’t totally clear, and research is still ongoing into zinc’s potential effectiveness as a supplement for bad moods.
Magnesium is another essential mineral. In fact, it’s required for more than 300 processes within your body, including supporting your immune system, helping you to maintain a stable heart rate and supporting normal nerve function.
Research has linked magnesium to brain regions in the limbic system — the region of your brain that’s responsible for regulating emotional responses. There’s also a link between magnesium deficiency and the symptoms of depression.
Although research is mixed overall, some studies have also found that magnesium may help to improve mood and treat depression.
You can find magnesium in many common foods, including fruits, nuts, milk, whole grains, peas and soy products. It’s also a common ingredient in mineral supplements.
If you’re feeling tired, stressed, or simply unhappy, adding one of the supplements above to your daily routine may help to promote better moods and mental health.
However, if you’re experiencing the signs of depression in women, such as a persistent negative mood, reduced interest in your hobbies and relationships, or thoughts of suicide, it’s important to seek help from a licensed mental health provider.
You can get help by asking your primary care provider for a mental health referral, meeting with a mental health provider in your area, or by connecting with a licensed provider online using our mental health services, including our online psychiatry service.
If you have a depressive disorder, your healthcare provider may recommend using medication, taking part in therapy or a combination of approaches to manage your symptoms and help you to feel better.
If you currently use mood boosting supplements, make sure to inform your healthcare provider before using any type of medication for depression, as some mood supplements may cause or contribute to adverse effects and/or drug interactions.
If you have symptoms of severe depression and need urgent help, you can use the services on our list of crisis and mental health hotlines to get professional care right away.
The best mood boosting supplements may help to stabilize your feelings, reduce the severity of depression and anxiety symptoms and provide other positive effects. Others, such as our Mood Mental Health Probiotic, can help to promote digestive balance and emotional well-being.
We have an article on more probiotics for anxiety and depression here if you'd like to learn more.
These benefits can make the right mood boosting supplements valuable additions to your daily routine, especially if you’re going through a tough time in life.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that mood boosting supplements aren’t medications, and none are approved as treatments for depression or anxiety disorders.
If you think you may be depressed or affected by another mental health disorder, it’s important to get professional help. You can do this by talking to your primary care provider or from home using our online mental health services.
Feeling seriously depressed? Our guide to the best medications for depression goes into more detail about your options, including evidence-based treatments to consider if you’re affected by major depressive disorder, seasonal depression or other forms of depressive illness.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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