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Omega 3 FFA for Depression

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry has shown that supplementing Omega-3 fatty acids (FFA) can significantly reduce symptoms for patients with major depression.  This study looked at 432 adult patients (mean age 46 years, 68.5% female) and randomized them to receive either 8 weeks of omega 3 FFA or placebo.  40% of the patients were also taking antidepressants when they started the study.

The results strongly showed that the patients who got the Omega 3 FFas had significantly reduced symptoms of depression compared to the placebo group.  Of interest is that patients with anxiety and depression did not improve with the Omega 3 supplements, only the patients with depression and no anxiety.

I have extolled the benefits of Omega 3 FFA supplements many times on EverythingHealth for treatment of hypertriglyceridemia and cardiovascular protection and I mentioned it for depressive symptoms also.  These essential fatty acids are not made in the body but must be consumed from food.  The average American is completely out of balance with too much Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3 in our modern diets.  Our brains and immune system depend upon essential fatty acids to function.

The next study that needs to be done is to compare Omega 3 FFA supplements with antidepressants in a head to head trial.  Until that time, clinicians could start treating depressed patients with Omega 3 supplements and see if the symptoms are relieved before they jump to antidepressants, with the caveat that anxiety disorders (which often accompany depression) were not improved with the supplement alone.

Diet: To boost your intake of fatty acids, eat more walnuts, spinach, flax seeds, and omega-3 enriched eggs.  Salmon, herring and sardines have the most Omega 3 FFAs,  but all fish supply some.

Full disclosure: I take Omega 3 FFA every day as a preventive and for good health.


Katie M said…
Awesome report. Very interesting. thanks.
Lately, more number of people are suffering from depressive disorders, many of which go through extreme form of Depression symptoms. In most cases many do not even get recognize and live life as though they are normal beings. Depression is not commonly recognize by society, and tend to be late in starting cure.

Exercise is a powerful tool to beat depression and help yourself create happiness in your life. Unfortunately many not know about its true potential and continue to remain ignorant. People are so addicted to medications that they are unwilling to explore new ideas to conquer Depression
Jonus Fox said…
Hey Doc
Any ideas or insights as top why the FFAs have no effect on anxiety disorders?
Toni Brayer, MD said…
M.scott: The neuropathway for anxiety disorder is different than depression, however the two often co-exist. The study was not done on pure anxiety disorder so it is unknown if it would help, but it had no benefit over placebo in patients with both conditions together.
Jonus Fox said…
Thanks Doc
Its interesting because it does seem like the details of how the Mechanism of Action of the various serotonin reuptake compounds is still kind of a mystery. Pharma companies know that they work, but they still seem to be unclear on exactly how they work...but shifting people to more natural compounds really seems like a wise move, though I am sure that Pfizer and others are reluctant to endorse FFAs as it will cut into their business.
Lockup Doc said…
Hi Dr. Brayer,

I hope more studies are done about the efficacy of fish oil in the treatment of various mental health problems in the future. I'm all for avoiding medications whenever we can. And I'm very open-minded about less traditional approaches--we'll never advance beyond where we are if we're not open-minded.

But as a psychiatrist, I'm still not convinced that there is enough evidence to back up the practice of routinely starting depressed patients on fish first and then resorting to an antidepressant later if necessary.

I'd be much more likely to do that in a patient who was adamantly opposed to antidepressants and in whom I had very clearly obtained informed consent (so that the patient clearly understood that the fish-oil-first approach was not the usual standard of care).

The other point that needs to be considered when it comes to fish oil for psychiatric problems is the doses of fish oil used in studies. Some studies used the equivalent of more than 9 standard 1000mg fish oil tabs per day. So, people who are truly depressed, if they're likely to be helped by fish oil at all, are not likely to benefit from taking 1 or 2 tablets/day. Many patients don't realize this.

Nice post, thanks!
Toni Brayer, MD said…
Lock-up doc: Thanks for your wisdom.(Readers, lock up doc is a Psychiatrist) You are correct and in this study they took 3 capsules a day of high potency Omega 3. I couldn't find the actual dose. This is not the first study that showed benefits of Omega 3 on psychiatric disorders. It is certainly not meant to replace antidepressants but I would like to see the head to head comparison with the SSRI medications.
Omega 3 is good for our heart. All should take Omega 3 to make their heart strong. I never thought that those foods are good in omega 3.
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