Fish oil supplements are often touted as being good for your heart health, but a new study shows that they can help fight depression too.
“Through a combination of laboratory and patient research, our study provided exciting new insights into how omega-3s have anti-inflammatory effects that improve depression,” said lead author Alessandra Borsini, postdoctoral neuroscientist at King’s College London.
Borsini said omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids were known to have antidepressant and anti-inflammatory effects, but how exactly this happens was unclear.
“Our study helped shed light on the molecular mechanisms involved in this relationship that may influence the development of potential new treatments for depression with omega-3 PUFAs,” Borsini said in a university press release.
Previous studies have shown that people with major depression have increased levels of inflammation, but there are no proven anti-inflammatory treatments for depression.
The patient portion of this new study included 22 people with major depression.
For 12 weeks, they were given one of two omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs, once a day – either 3 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA or 1.4 grams of docosahexaenoic acid or DHA.
EPA and DHA are omega-3 PUFAs found in oily fish.
By-products of EPA and DHA were measured in the patients’ blood before and after treatment, and their symptoms of depression were assessed.
Treatment with both omega-3s was associated with a significant improvement in depression, with an average symptom reduction of 64% in the EPA group and 71% in the DHA group. However, it does not prove cause and effect.
The results were published this week in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
The EPA and DHA levels used in this study cannot be achieved by consuming oily fish, the researchers found.
Lead study author Carmen Pariante, professor of biological psychiatry, said the research has provided important information to shape clinical trials of therapeutic approaches using omega-3 fatty acids.
“It’s important to emphasize that our research hasn’t shown that simply increasing the omega-3s in our diet or taking supplements can reduce inflammation or depression,” she said.
“The mechanisms behind the associations between depression and omega-3 PUFAs are complex and require further research and clinical trials to fully understand how they work and inform future therapeutic approaches,” said Pariante.
The US National Institute of Mental Health has more about depression.
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