Fatty Acids Fight the Blues?

Omega-3 supplements may help alleviate depression

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Omega-3 essential fatty acids may offer help for those suffering from depression. The acids play a role in optimal brain functioning and have also been shown to have antidepressant benefits.

Eicosapentenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA), two critical omega-3 essential fatty acids not produced in the body naturally, act as an effective treatment for people with depression, according to researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago, led by John M. Davis, M.D., research professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In a meta-analysis of 15 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, researchers found that patients taking omega-3 with either EPA or a combination of EPA and DHA experienced clear antidepressant benefits, whereas those taking the pure DHA form of omega-3 saw no antidepressant effect.

"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," said Davis. "The EPA predominant formulation is necessary for the therapeutic action to occur. The DHA predominant formulation does not have antidepressant efficacy."

EPA does not improve mood in people who are not depressed, however, according to the research.

Though Davis said the outcomes of the study are "unambiguous," researchers caution patients to always talk to their healthcare provider before adding supplements to their antidepressant medication regimen or before self-treating with supplements.

About 20.9 million American adults suffer from mood disorders. Depression accounts for the world's fourth leading cause of morbidity and death.

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Review Date: 
December 8, 2010
Last Updated:
December 9, 2010