Micronutrients as a Treatment for Antenatal Depression: Results from “NUTRIMUM”, an RCT using vitamins and minerals to treat depressive symptoms during pregnancy

Researchers from Te Puna Toiora (Mental Health and Nutrition Research Lab) have published a new study investigating whether broad-spectrum micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) can improve symptoms of depression during pregnancy.

AI generated illustration of pregnant woman surrounded by vtitamins and nutrition

Dr Hayley Bradley


Researchers from Te Puna Toiora (Mental Health and Nutrition Research Lab) have published a new study investigating whether broad-spectrum micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) can improve symptoms of depression during pregnancy.

Antenatal depression affects between 15-21% of pregnant women worldwide (1) and increases the risk pregnancy, birth, and neonatal complications as well as postnatal depression (2-4). It has also been associated with emotional, behavioural and developmental problems in the offspring (5).

Psychological therapy and antidepressant medication are recommended treatments for depression during pregnancy; however, barriers and risks associated with these treatments limit the number of women who access them (6-9). Alternative interventions that are accessible and safe are therefore needed.

Previous research has shown benefit of broad-spectrum micronutrients for the treatment of depression in non-pregnant populations (10-13,15) and other studies have found beneficial effects of micronutrients on mood and quality of life during pregnancy (14).

Until now, there have been no published randomised controlled trials (the gold standard method of assessing whether a treatment works) specifically designed to assess the efficacy and safety of broad-spectrum micronutrients on symptoms of antenatal depression and overall functioning.

The NUTRIMUM trial (16) recruited 88 women in their second trimester of pregnancy who reported depressive symptoms. They were randomly allocated to receive capsules of either broad-spectrum micronutrients or an active placebo containing iodine and riboflavin for a 12-week period.

The first key finding was that we found a treatment effect. This means that, overall, the group of people who were taking the micronutrients did better than the group who were taking the placebo when considering global improvement of change. This kind of measure considers all noted changes based on both self and clinician observations and can include sleep, mood regulation, coping, anxiety, and resilience. This is an important finding given the scepticism associated with taking micronutrients to treat mental health difficulties. Because no one knew whether they were taking the real thing or the placebo, this outcome is regarded highly in the scientific literature.

Interestingly, both groups improved on the self-report measure of mood, with over three quarters of participants no longer reported depressive symptoms at the end of the trial. Also, participants in the micronutrient group had significantly greater improvements in overall symptoms: 69% of participants taking the micronutrients rated themselves as “much” or “very much” improved as compared with 39% taking the placebo. Participants taking the micronutrients also experienced significantly greater improvements in sleep and overall day-to-day functioning compared to participants taking the placebo.

The second key finding was that there were no group differences in reported side effects or measures of safety. This means there were no adverse effects associated with taking the micronutrients. Common side effects reported in the trial were nausea, constipation, and difficulties with sleep; however, a similar number of participants in both the placebo group and micronutrient group reported these side effects. The one side effect that trended towards more reporting in the micronutrient group was nausea and stomach issues like diarrhoea, however, this was not significantly different to the placebo group. These findings suggest that any side effects reported were not specific to the micronutrients but may have more to do with taking the capsules, pregnancy or close monitoring of these types of symptoms over time. The lack of side effects is great news, as medications prescribed for depression often come with complications and can be the reason why many women do not want to take medications during pregnancy.

Micronutrients were particularly helpful for participants who have taken psychiatric medication in the past and/or who were more susceptible to mental health struggles due to their patterns of thinking, behaviour, emotions and relating to others. However, participants who did not demonstrate these same difficulties tended to do well regardless of whether they were taking the micronutrients or the active placebo which means that general care or time may be sufficiently beneficial for these women. This effect is illustrated in the figure below:


graph of results


Also of note, retention in the study was good (81%), compliance excellent (>90%), the blind well maintained and there were no group differences in the emergence of suicidal ideation. Outcomes were comparable to those obtained using psychotherapy but achieved with much less contact; response rates to psychotherapy range from 33-71% (17-19). However, these psychotherapy studies had typically smaller sample sizes, a higher number of dropouts and greater chance of bias, for example, the lack of blinding in psychotherapy trials. There are no medication RCTs to compare these results.

The findings of this study demonstrated that micronutrients may be a safe and helpful treatment option for women struggling with low mood during pregnancy, especially for those who are more susceptible to mental health difficulties or who have trialled psychiatric medication in the past. The researchers at Te Puna Toiora are hoping the trial will be replicated in the near future to confirm the study findings.

This work couldn’t have been completed without the time and commitment from our all our amazing participants and financial support from the University of Canterbury Research Funds, University of Canterbury Foundation, The Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care, The Nurture Foundation for Reproductive Research, St George’s Hospital (Christchurch, New Zealand) and The Waterloo Foundation. No funding was received from the manufacturer of the micronutrients.

We are also grateful to the companies that donated products for the gift hamper including Tui Balms, Noopi, Eco Store, Earthwise, Treasures, Nutrimetics, Sanitarium, Portrait Studio, and Pead PR.


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