—A Special Report from Victor Marchione, MD
Talk of omega-3 fatty acids relieving depression has gone on for years now. A new study has arrived that says using omega-3 supplements is effective among patients with major depression. The study, published in the “Journal of Clinical Psychiatry,” is the largest one ever conducted on these healthy fats and the treatment of major depression.
Initially, the research couldn’t clearly tell if omega-3s were effective for all patients. But other analyses revealed that the fatty acid improved depression symptoms in patients diagnosed with depression — but who did not have an anxiety disorder. These patients derived roughly as much benefit from omega-3s as they would from taking antidepressant drugs.
So let’s get to the study details. From October 2005 to January 2009, 432 male and female participants with major depression were recruited to take part. Then, for two months, half of the participants took three capsules per day (1,050 mg in all) of fish oil that was high in “eicosapentaenoic acid” (EPA), which is a strong omega-3. The other half took three identical capsules of a placebo consisting mostly of sunflower oil.
This study included many patients who had complex, difficult-to-treat conditions. This includes patients resistant to antidepressants as well as those suffering from an anxiety disorder. The aim was to assess the value of omega-3s in the same sort of patients treated in outpatient clinics. They found direct evidence that the EPA-rich supplements improved symptoms in people with depression but without anxiety. The researchers call the results encouraging, and say that more studies that compare omega-3s with antidepressant drugs could lead to a clear picture.
About 11% of men and 16% of women in North America will suffer from major depression at some point in their lives. Depression, now the world’s fourth leading cause of disease and death, is expected to move up to the no. 2 spot by 2020. It remains very difficult to treat. Alternative remedies are gaining in popularity, because people stop taking their antidepressants or don’t want to start because of stigmatization or side effects.
Older studies have shown that a lack of polyunsaturated fats (like omega-3) can put you at risk for psychological disorders such as depression.