Can Zinc Help Reduce MS Depression?

Patient Expert

Depression is a common symptom of multiple sclerosis. It is often a normal emotional response to the diagnosis, varying symptoms, and changes in life circumstances caused by the disease for some MS patients. For others, changes in the brain can contribute to depressive and psychiatric disorders. It is not uncommon for people with MS to experience both types of depression.

MS and depression

Major depressive disorder, also called clinical depression, is one of the most common mental health disorders in patients with MS. Major depression is different than situational depression -- the normal reaction to events or circumstances around us, such as grieving due to a loss. Studies indicate that 50 percent of individuals with MS will become depressed during their lifetime, compared to less than 20 percent of the American population.

Symptoms of depression may include low mood, fatigue, thoughts of helplessness or hopelessness, changes in sleeping or eating habits, cognitive changes, irritability, reduced libido, and thoughts of death or suicide. If you experience any of these symptoms, please talk to your healthcare professional.

Depression and zinc

In recent years, a small number of studies have demonstrated that zinc has a beneficial effect on symptoms of depression. In fact, zinc deficiency in mice is used to test depressive-type behavior and antidepressant therapies. Zinc deficiency has been shown to interfere with the expression of norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline, which is a target of select antidepressants.

Zinc and MS

Both zinc deficiency and excess are known to affect the immune system. A study using oral zinc aspartate to treat EAE (experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, a MS-like disease in mice) resulted in reduced clinical signs during the relapsing-remitting from the disease.

In a recent double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, researchers examined the effect of zinc on depression and neurological signs in people diagnosed with MS. Forty-three people with MS and major depressive disorder were randomly assigned to one of two groups: the placebo group (n=22) and the intervention group (n=21) which received zinc sulfate (220mg containing 50mg zinc element) for 12 weeks.

Results of the study indicated that depression scores were reduced in participants who received the zinc supplement compared to those in the placebo group. However, there was no difference between the groups during neurological examinations that evaluated abnormal ocular (eye) movement, muscle strength, and gait (walking ability).

Researchers conclude that zinc supplementation is an appropriate choice to manage depression in patients with MS.

Dietary sources of zinc

According to the National Institutes of Health, a wide variety of foods contain zinc, but none more than oysters. Most Americans get zinc from red meat and poultry. Other good food sources include beans, nuts, certain types of seafood (such as crab and lobster), whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, and dairy products.

Take zinc with caution

While zinc lozenges have been shown to reduce the severity and length of the common cold, consuming high levels of zinc does not come without risks. Zinc toxicity can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea and supplements can interact with several types of medications including antibiotics, diuretics, and penicillamine (Cuprimine, a drug used to treat RA and Wilson’s disease).

Tell your healthcare professionals about ALL of the medications and supplements you take. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of specific supplements before adding them to your daily routine.

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Lomagno KA, Hu F, Riddell LJ, et al. Increasing Iron and Zinc in Pre-Menopausal Women and Its Effects on Mood and Cognition: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2014 Nov 14; 6(11):5117-41.  doi:10.3390/nu6115117

Mitsuya H, Omata N, Kiyono Y, et al. The co-occurrence of zinc deficiency and social isolation has the opposite effects on mood compared with either condition alone due to changes in the central norepinephrine system. Behav Brain Res. 2015 May 1;284:125-30. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2015.02.005. Epub 2015 Feb 11.

Salari S, Khomand P, Arasteh M, Yousefzamani B, Hassanzadeh K. Zinc sulphate: A reasonable choice for depression management in patients with multiple sclerosis: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Pharmacol Rep. 2015 Jun;67(3):606-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pharep.2015.01.002. Epub 2015 Jan 19.

Schubert C, Guttek K, Grüngreiff K, et al. Oral zinc aspartate treats experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis. Biometals. 2014 Dec;27(6):1249-62. doi: 10.1007/s10534-014-9786-8. Epub 2014 Aug 22.

Zinc: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals (Revised June 5, 2013). National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.