Expert committee probes evidence from population and clinical studies; Findings uphold hypothesis that omega-3s can deter depression and bipolar disorder
by Craig Weatherby
Population studies performed by renowned psychiatric researcher Joseph Hibbeln, M.D. and others draw strong connections between low intake of omega-3 fatty acids and increased risk of depression, anxiety, and related mood disorders.
We met Dr. Hibbeln—Senior Clinical Investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism—at the Seafood & Health conference in 2005.
In addition to the eye-opening paper Dr. Hibbeln co-authored with Vital Choice science advisor William E.M. Lands, Ph.D.—which concerned the fatty acid imbalance in American diets—Joe Hibbeln co-authored a recently published, comprehensive, review of the medical literature on omega-3s and psychiatric problems.
The Committee on Research on Psychiatric Treatments of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) appointed Dr. Hibbeln and 10 other prominent experts in the field to an Omega-3 Fatty Acids Subcommittee, for the purpose of reviewing the available evidence.
The committee members administered the study from the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine. (Coincidentally, the university hosts Dr. Andrew Weil’s innovative Program in Integrative Medicine, which was not involved in the study.)
The APA’s Omega-3 Fatty Acids Subcommittee looked at evidence from three sources:
- Epidemiologic (population) studies that compared people’s consumption of omega-3s with rates of depression and related mood disorders.
- Clinical studies that compared tissue levels of omega-3s with people’s psychiatric health.
- Meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (Meta-analyses use statistical methods to pool and analyze the results of multiple clinical trials).
The members concluded that the preponderance of evidence supports the hypothesis that people who consume higher amounts of omega-3 EFAs—particularly the long-chain “marine” omega-3s from fish (EPA and DHA)—enjoy reduced risks of depression, bipolar disorder (manic-depression), and related mood disorders.
The omega-3 committee found less evidence that omega-3s affect the risk of schizophrenia or aid sufferers substantially.
As the study authors wrote, “EPA and DHA appear to have negligible risks and some potential benefit in major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder, but results remain inconclusive in most areas of interest in psychiatry” (Freeman MP et al 2006).
We hope that the positive outcome of a review conducted under the auspices of America’s top psychiatric organization will encourage funding for further research.
- Freeman MP, Hibbeln JR, Wisner KL, Davis JM, Mischoulon D, Peet M, Keck PE Jr, Marangell LB, Richardson AJ, Lake J, Stoll AL. Omega-3 fatty acids: evidence basis for treatment and future research in psychiatry. J Clin Psychiatry. 2006 Dec;67(12):1954-67. Review.
- Peet M, Stokes C. Omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Drugs. 2005;65(8):1051-9. Review.
- Parker G, Gibson NA, Brotchie H, Heruc G, Rees AM, Hadzi-Pavlovic D. Omega-3 fatty acids and mood disorders. Am J Psychiatry. 2006 Jun;163(6):969-78. Review. Erratum in: Am J Psychiatry. 2006 Oct;163(10):1842.
- Freeman MP. Omega-3 fatty acids in psychiatry: a review. Ann Clin Psychiatry. 2000 Sep;12(3):159-65. Review.
- Young G, Conquer J. Omega-3 fatty acids and neuropsychiatric disorders. Reprod Nutr Dev. 2005 Jan-Feb;45(1):1-28. Review.