Omega-3 fatty acids and depression

PAVIA, ITALY. A new study on the relationship of omega-3 fatty acids and depression has been reported, which examined patients not on psychiatric drugs. The subjects were female, between the age of 65 and 95, not obese, and had been in a nursing home for at least 3 months prior to enrolment. All subjects had been diagnosed by a senior psychiatrist as being depressed and met the criteria for major depression as set forth in the DSM-IV, the universal diagnostic manual. Exclusion criteria included the presence of current comorbid psychotic symptoms, current use of psychiatric drugs aside from benzodiazepines (e.g. valium), and the presence of psychotic symptoms. Forty-six patients were randomized to receive 2.5 g/day of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (1.67g EPA, 0.83g of DHA) or a placebo. The two-month study had as the primary endpoint the improvement of depressive symptoms as evaluated by a standard measures. Secondary endpoints included modification of red blood cell fatty- acid profile (a test of compliance and bioavailability) and quality of life.

After 2 months only the omega-3 group showed significant lower depressive symptoms, significantly improved quality of life, and elevated red blood cell fatty acid levels. The researchers point out that lower concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids have been reported in both plasma and red blood cell membranes of patients with DSM-IV diagnosed major depressive disorders compared to matched non-depressed controls. They also emphasize that depression is not, in their view, a natural part of aging and is often reversible with prompt and appropriate treatment. They also point out that the improvement in quality of life found in the treatment group had never been achieved before and appears to be of great value from a clinical point of view due to the importance of increased satisfaction with a number of key quality of life aspects and a general improvement in the feeling of well-being. Treatment with 2.5 g/day of EPA/DHA was also free of side effects, which is not in general the case with antidepressant drugs. Incidentally, this would not be an unusual long-chain omega-3 fatty acid intake for individuals who take fish oil supplements.
Rondanelli M, et al. Long chain omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids supplementation in the treatment of elderly depression: effects on depressive symptoms, on phospholipids fatty acids profile and on health-related quality of life. Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, Vol. 15, Number 1, 2011, pp. 37-44

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