by Craig Weatherby
About 21 million American adults suffer from mood disorders, including depression, the world's fourth leading cause of morbidity and death.
And a new review of the best clinical evidence strongly supports the conclusions of a prior review, which also found that omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil can enhance treatment of depression.
Our bodies can make the two omega-3s essential to human life and health—EPA and DHA—from the short-chain omega-3 called ALA, which is found in a certain plant foods (leafy greens, walnuts, flax, canola oil).
But humans do this very inefficiently, converting only two to 10 percent of dietary ALA into DHA and EPA.
Pre-formed EPA and DHA are only found in seafood, with fatty fish having more than lean fish or shellfish (Omega-3 supplements made from algae only contain DHA).
The authors of a “meta-analysis” of 15 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies presented their results last week at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.
The study—funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and conducted by researchers from UCLA and the University of Illinois at Chicago—combined the results of 15 prior clinical trials to arrive at an overall conclusion.
The UCLA/UI team, led by John M. Davis, M.D., wrote that their analysis of the evidence showed that "patients taking omega-3 with either EPA or a combination of EPA and DHA experienced clear antidepressant benefits” (ACN 2010).
However, patients taking only omega-3 DHA showed no anti-depression benefits.
As Dr. Davis said, “Our analysis clarifies the precise type of omega-3 fatty acid that is effective for people with depression and explains why previous findings have been contradictory” (ACN 2010).
While omega-3 EPA produces beneficial effects in patients with depression, neither EPA nor DHA appears to improve mood in people who are not depressed.
Davis and his team said their analysis suggests that women who consumed few omega-3s were more likely to experience depression during and after pregnancy than women with adequate omega-3s in their diets.
“The findings are unambiguous,” said Davis. “Omega-3 fatty acids have antidepressant properties, and this effect is ready to be tested in a large study to establish the dose range and to pave the way for FDA approval” (ACN 2010).
And he made two key points: “In the meantime, omega-3 fatty acids containing EPA could be useful to augment effects of antidepressant medications… [but] patients should always talk with their mental health professional before taking omega-3 fatty acids to alleviate symptoms of depression” (ACN 2010).
Dr. Davis’ team leaves little reason for the FDA to delay official endorsement of omega-3 EPA as a legitimate therapeutic aid against depression.
- American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACN). Omega-3 Supplements Show Promise in Alleviating Depression.Dec. 8, 2010. ACN 49th Annual Meeting, December 5-9, 2010 Miami Beach, Florida. Accessed at http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/omega-3-supplements-show-promise-in-alleviating-depression-111503984.html