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Menopause Eased by Omega-3s
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The landscape of clinical research into menopause-symptom remedies is littered with failed or unclear outcomes.
by Craig Weatherby

So far, there’s no persuasive clinical proof that soy, red clover, or herbal supplements do much to alleviate hot flashes, mood swings, or other unwelcome aspects of menopause (Low Dog T 2005; Albertazzi P et al. 2006).
And omega-3s haven’t been proven to help either… but they’ve chalked up at least one preliminary win.
The first trial to test omega-3s for menopause symptoms was conducted in Canada, using only EPA, which is just one of the two major omega-3s in fish oil and human cell membranes (the other is DHA).
Still, that pilot Canadian trial produced encouraging preliminary results (Lucas M et al. 2009; see “Can Omega-3s Fight Hot Flashes?”).
Now, researchers report the results of another pilot clinical trial, in which omega-3 fish oil supplements (with DHA as well as EPA) reduced depression symptoms and hot flashes in women entering early menopause (Freeman MP et al. 2010).
The study was led by two leading names in the field:
  • Marlene Freeman, M.D., is a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and staff psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital.
  • Captain Joe Hibbeln, M.D., is Acting Director of the Section of Nutritional Neuroscience at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Their pilot clinical trial involved 20 women who were given a placebo for a short period, followed by a two-month period in which they received three omega-3 fish oil capsules daily.
This was an uncontrolled trial, which means that there was no control group receiving placebo pills, so its results cannot prove anything.
Instead this kind of trial is intended to indicate whether more rigorous clinical research (randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind) is warranted… and the results suggest that the answer to that question is “yes”.
Positive results warrant more research.
Each women’s mood was measured using a standard test to measure depression, called the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale or MADRS.
The participating women also recorded their frequency and intensity of hot flashes using a standard measure called the Hot Flash Related Daily Interference Scale.
And the researchers took blood samples before and after the trial, to measure omega-3 levels.
Of 19 participants who took omega-3s and completed the study, the pre-trial and final average MADRS scores were 24.2 and 10.7, respectively, reflecting a significant decrease in depression.
Among the women taking omega-3s, 70 percent enjoyed a drop of 50 percent or more in their depression score and the remission rate (i.e., no more symptoms of depression) was 45 percent.
The women who responded the best had significantly lower pre-trial levels of omega-3 DHA, compared with women who did not respond to omega-3 supplements.
Before the trial began, 15 of the 19 participants reported suffering hot flashes. Among those women, the number of hot flashes per day improved significantly and their Hot Flash Related Daily Interference Scale scores dropped significantly.
As the authors concluded, these positive outcomes “…support further study of omega-3 fatty acids for major depressive disorder and hot flashes in women during the menopausal transition” (Freeman MP et al. 2010).
  • Albertazzi P. A review of non-hormonal options for the relief of menopausal symptoms. Treat Endocrinol. 2006;5(2):101-13.
  • Campagnoli C, Abba C, Ambroggio S, Peris C, Perona M, Sanseverino P. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) might reduce hot flushes: an indication from two controlled trials on soy isoflavones alone and with a PUFA supplement. Maturitas. 2005 Jun 16;51(2):127-34. Epub 2004 Dec 25.
  • Carroll DG. Nonhormonal therapies for hot flashes in menopause. Am Fam Physician. 2006 Feb 1;73(3):457-64. Review.
  • Cheema D, Coomarasamy A, El-Toukhy T. Non-hormonal therapy of post-menopausal vasomotor symptoms: a structured evidence-based review. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2007 Nov;276(5):463-9. Epub 2007 Jun 26. Review.
  • Freeman MP, Hibbeln JR, Silver M, Hirschberg AM, Wang B, Yule AM, Petrillo LF, Pascuillo E, Economou NI, Joffe H, Cohen LS. Omega-3 fatty acids for major depressive disorder associated with the menopausal transition: a preliminary open trial. Menopause. 2010 Oct 27. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Low Dog T. Menopause: a review of botanical dietary supplements. Am J Med. 2005 Dec 19;118(12 Suppl 2):98-108. Review.
  • Lucas M, Asselin G, Mérette C, Poulin MJ, Dodin S. Effects of ethyl-eicosapentaenoic acid omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on hot flashes and quality of life among middle-aged women: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. Menopause. 2009 Mar-Apr;16(2):357-66.

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