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Omega-3 may reduce depressive symptoms

by Deesha Patel

Depression is typically treated with talk therapy and anti-depressants. There are several anti-depressants out on the market. However, many depression patients do not like to use anti-depressants due to such as side effects or the anti-depressants not working properly at reducing symptoms. Thus, there is a need for alternative treatments for depression. One alternative treatment that has been researched is omega-3 supplementation, which contains the beneficial fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexonic acid (DHA).

Researchers in Canada decided to test the efficacy of omega-3 supplementation in depressed patients.  Those eligible for the study were adults diagnosed with depression; some of these patients were also diagnosed with anxiety disorders. They were randomized into either the placebo group or the intervention group. The intervention group took 3 capsules of omega-3 fish oil daily (1050 mg of EPA and 150 mg of DHA); the placebo group ingested sunflower oil. The researchers added 2% fish oil to the sunflower oil so that both groups would have a fishy aftertaste; this would reduce the chance of biased results because research personnel and patients would not be able to distinguish between the two groups. Patients were seen and evaluated in the clinic at 1, 2, 4, and 8 weeks. Depressive symptoms were measured by patient self-report and clinician rating.

The researchers found that there was a statistically significant reduction in depressive symptoms among patients who only had depression in the intervention group compared to the placebo group. Depressive symptoms decreased as well for patients in the intervention group with both depression and anxiety disorders, but it was not a statistically significant trend. For patients taking anti-depressants and supplementing with omega-3, there was no decrease in depressive symptoms when compared to being only on anti-depressants. The researchers also found a relatively low level of side effects.

The researchers proposed that more trials need to be conducted on the efficacy of omega-3 supplementation, especially for long-term treatment for patients with anxiety disorders and depression. Although they did not suggest a specified dosage, the researchers concluded that patients with only depression who are not currently on anti-depressants may benefit from omega-3 supplementation. It is important to note that the American Heart Association’s recommendation for omega-3 intake for elevated triglycerides (chemical form of fat in food and the body)--2000 to 4000 mg of a combination of EPA and DHA--is higher than what the researchers used in this study. It would be worthwhile for future research to focus on  a higher intake of omega-3 for depression to achieve a greater reduction in depressive symptoms.

This article was published on Tuesday November 23, 2010.
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  1. Lesperance F, Frasure-Smith N, St-Andre E, Turecki G, Lesperance P, Wisniewski SR.

    The efficacy of omega-3 supplementation for major depression: a randomized controlled trial. J Clin Psychiatry. June 15, 2010 [Epub ahead of print].
  2. American Heart Association. Frequently Asked Questions about Fish. May 21, 2010