Can Omega-3s Help Treat Depression?

By Kelly Burch 10/02/19

A panel of experts weighed in on whether the supplement provided any benefits for those with major depressive disorder. 

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Anyone with major depression or who is at high risk of developing the condition should take a daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish oil, according to new recommendations. 

The International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research made the recommendations and released them on Sept. 3 in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. 

Panel Of Experts Weigh In

“The expert consensus panel has agreed on using [omega-3s] in [major depressive disorder] treatment for pregnant women, children, and the elderly, and prevention in high-risk populations,” the review authors wrote. 

The expert panel reviewed research on omega-3s in the treatment of major depression. It concluded that the benefits of omega-3s were well-established. 

“Several lines of evidence have suggested the efficacy of [omega-3s] as a preventive and treatment strategy in [major depressive disorder], from epidemiological and case-controlled studies to randomized-controlled trials and meta-analyses,” the authors wrote. 

Despite that, there were no clinical guidelines that dictated the best way to use omega-3s for patients with major depression. The committee set out to create guidelines for doctors. They laid out the dosage that patients should get. 

“The recommended therapeutic dosages should aim for 1–2 g/day of total EPA from pure EPA or 1–2 g/day EPA from an EPA/DHA (>2:1) combination,” they wrote. 

Finding The Right Dosage

The amount of omega-3s can be increased biweekly. That same amount can also be used as a preventive measure for high-risk individuals, the study authors noted. 

It’s important to emphasize that the authors said that omega-3s should be combined with other treatments, including antidepressant medications and therapy. They are not effective on their own, but could make a big difference when used in conjunction with other therapies. 

Dr. Kuan-Pin Su has studied the effect of omega-3s on patients with depression and anxiety extensively. He told Medscape that their effectiveness is often “overlooked” and should be “on the radar” of more physicians who are treating people with depression and anxiety. 

Earlier this year, a study showed that eating a Mediterranean diet can cut the risk of depression by up to one-third. That’s in part because this way of eating includes many healthy fats, like omega-3s. 

Food is important to overall mental health, said Charles Conway, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Especially the omega three fatty acids,” he added. “Those are known to have pretty clear effects with depression.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.