Omega-3s May Rival Antidepressant Drugs
Study affirms the antidepressant value of omega-3s, and their ability to boost drug benefits
Study affirms the antidepressant value of omega-3s, and their ability to boost drug benefits
Occasional sadness or melancholy is normal, but major depression is far more dire.
Major or "clinical” depression is characterized by daily feelings of despair that make it hard to function.
About one in 20 adult Americans suffers from major depression, and one in four to five adults will suffer an episode at some point.
Women are twice as likely to report depression, due to greater hormonal effects and stress levels … and possibly because men are more reticent to reveal mood problems.
Antidepressant drugs are the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States and other Western countries.
The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors" (SSRIs), such as Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, and Paxil.
Doubts remain about their efficacy, as we reported in Prozac-Type Drugs Proven No Better than Placebo and Depression Drugs Debunked, Again.
However, Brown University psychiatrist Peter Kramer, M.D. – author of the 1993 bestseller "Listening to Prozac” – penned a rather persuasive rebuttal in The New York Times: see In Defense of Antidepressants.
Nonetheless, SSRI-type drugs can have adverse side effects, including weight gain, nausea, insomnia, and loss of libido, and they can promote suicidal thoughts in the first days of treatment.
So it seems wise to search for alternatives that are about equally effective but safer … better yet, alternatives that are both effective for depression and actively healthful.
Omega-3s and depression: A brief history
There's ample evidence that omega 3 fatty acids from seafood serve as allies against depression.
For one thing, studies consistently find that people with depression have lower levels of omega-3s in their cells (Hibbeln JR et al. 2009; Beydoun MA et al. 2013).
And it's also apparent that Americans' excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids contributes to depression and anxiety ... see Omega-6 Overload Linked to Depression.
But high-quality clinical trials testing omega-3 fish oil have been relatively few, with the results muddied, among other factors, by high intakes of opposing omega-6 fats.
In fact, the authors of an evidence review published last year bemoaned the lack of high-quality clinical trials, which precluded firm conclusions … see Omega-3s vs. Depression: Do they Really Help?.
Nonetheless, as they wrote, "The one study that directly compares omega-3s and antidepressants in our review finds comparable benefit.”
A European clinical trial published two years ago produced clearly positive results … see Fish Boosts Anti-Depressant Drugs.
Other recent evidence reviews have come to similarly positive conclusions (Sublette ME et al. 2011; Grosso G et al. 2014).
Such generally positive findings explain the supportive opinion of U.S. experts ... see Top Psych Panel Says Omega-3s Deter Depression, Bipolar Disorder.
And the results of a new evidence review from the Netherlands affirm the value of omega-3s as mood enhancers.
Dutch evidence review sees omega-3s rivaling antidepressants
The most recent evidence review was published earlier this month by researchers in the Netherlands.
The university-based authors analyzed 13 studies that involved 1,233 people (Mocking RJT et al. 2016).
In short, their "meta-analysis” of prior clinical trials found that omega-3 fish oil rivals the antidepressant benefits of popular drugs such as Zoloft and Prozac.
Importantly, they also compared the antidepressant effects of the two different omega-3s found in seafood, called DHA and EPA.
Compared with studies in which people took fish oil containing more DHA than EPA, the antidepressant benefits of fish oil were greater when it contained more EPA than DHA.
As it happens, most fish oils on the market already contain more EPA than DHA.
The analysis also found that omega-3 fish oil provided additional benefits to patients who were already taking antidepressant drugs.
According to lead author Dr. Roel JT Mocking, of the University of Amsterdam, "This could be a next step to personalizing the treatment for depression and other disorders.”
Why would omega-3s diminish depression?
For starters, omega-3s are critical to basic brain cell structures and functions.
And both play large roles in damping inflammation, which is involved in depression.
Further, it's become increasingly clear that Prozac and other SSRI drugs don't work the way their name implies.
It's long been thought – but never proven – that they work by reducing re-absorption of the mood-related neurotransmitter called serotonin.
Instead, recent research shows that omega-3s and SSRI drugs alike foster the growth of cells in the brain's hippocampus region and connections between them … an effect strongly linked to a reduced risk for depression and less severe symptoms.
Omega-3s and SSRI drugs alike do this by raising brain levels of key chemicals, including "brain-derived neurotrophic factor" or BDNF … see Omega-3s Linked to Lower Teen Anxiety and Fish Fats Boost Brain Resilience.
Aerobic exercise and antioxidant-rich plant foods also raise brain levels of BDNF and other chemicals that promote the growth of brain cells and networks … see Growth Hormone for Your Brain, Curry's Color Boosts Mood, Alzheimer's Drug Apes Omega-3s and Berries, Blueberries Reversed Rodents' Brain Decline, Chocolate Sparks a Key Brain Protector, and Brain Benefits from Olive Oil?.
People experiencing depression or anxiety should seek professional help.
Effective treatment typically combines antidepressant drugs with psychotherapy and/or cognitive therapy.
And to help prevent or ease mood disorders, it makes sense to get plenty of seafood-source omega-3s, from fish and/or fish oil.
You needn't take our word for it.
You'll hear similar advice in a video featuring renowned NIH clinical psychiatrist, Captain Joseph R. Hibbeln, M.D.
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