Omega-3 fatty acids may prevent some forms of depression

October 1, 2014
Credit: George Hodan/Public Domain

Patients with increased inflammation, including those receiving cytokines for medical treatment, have a greatly increased risk of depression. For example, a 6-month treatment course of interferon-alpha therapy for chronic hepatitis C virus infection causes depression in approximately 30% of patients.

Omega-3 fatty acids, more commonly known as fish oil, have a long list of health benefits, including lowering the risk of heart disease and reducing triglyceride levels. These nutritional compounds are also known to have anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Despite some recent negative findings, as their tendency to increase the risk for prostate cancer was proven and some of the putative health benefits were not replicated in large trials, omega-3's remain of high interest to the field, where several studies have suggested benefits for depression and other psychiatric disorders.

This led a group of international researchers, led by senior author Dr. Carmine Pariante, to conduct a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in order to carefully evaluate the effects of on -induced depression.

They recruited 152 patients with hepatitis C to participate, each of whom was randomized to receive two weeks of treatment with EPA, DHA, or placebo. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are the two main omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements.

Following the two-week treatment, the patients received a 24-week course of interferon-alpha treatment and were evaluated repeatedly for depression.

The researchers found that treatment with EPA, but not DHA or placebo, decreased the incidence of interferon-alpha-induced depression in patients being treated for hepatitis C.

Pariante, a Professor at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London, added, "The study shows that even a short course (two weeks) of a nutritional supplement containing one such omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (EPA) reduced the rates of new-onset depression to 10%."

In addition, both EPA and DHA delayed the onset of depression, and both treatments were well tolerated, with no serious side effects.

"These new data provide promising support for omega-3 fatty acids to prevent depression, complementing other studies where omega-3's were found to enhance antidepressant treatment," said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.

EPA is considered an "endogenous" anti-inflammatory, and in previous work, also published in Biological Psychiatry, these same authors found that subjects with low levels of endogenous EPA in the blood were at higher risk of developing depression. Therefore, the authors speculate that this nutritional intervention restores the natural protective anti-inflammatory capabilities of the body, and thus protects patients from new-onset depression when inflammation occurs.

Although further work is still necessary and the findings must be replicated, these data indicate that omega-3 polyunsaturated may be effective in preventing depression in a group of patients at high-risk of depression because of increased inflammation.

Explore further: Omega-3 dietary supplements pass the blood-brain barrier

More information: "Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Prevention of Interferon-Alpha-Induced Depression: Results from a Randomized, Controlled Trial" by Kuan-Pin Su, Hsueh-Chou Lai, Hui-Ting Yang, Wen-Pang Su, Cheng-Yuan Peng, Jane Pei-Chen Chang, Hui-Chih Chang, and Carmine M. Pariante (DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.01.008) Biological Psychiatry, Volume 76, Issue 7 (October 1, 2014), published by Elsevier.

Related Stories

Omega-3 dietary supplements pass the blood-brain barrier

December 4, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—New research from Karolinska Institutet shows that omega-3 fatty acids in dietary supplements can cross the blood brain barrier in people with Alzheimer's disease, affecting known markers for both the disease ...

Turmeric enhances mood in depression research trial

September 26, 2014
The antidepressant benefits of the Indian spice turmeric have been supported by the results of a trial run by a Murdoch University researcher.

Diet can predict cognitive decline: EPA, DHA remain important nutrients

April 29, 2014
The importance of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) to brain health has been demonstrated in multiple studies. To assess whether lower dietary intake of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), ...

Despite health benefits, most children and adults have a 'nutrition gap' in omega-3 fatty acids

July 16, 2013
Because of a diet low in fish and seafood, children and adults in North America and other parts of the world, have a "nutrition gap" of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid ...

Recommended for you

Abusive avatars help schizophrenics fight 'voices': study

November 24, 2017
"You're rubbish. You're rubbish. You're a waste of space." The computer avatar pulls no punches as it lays into the young woman, a schizophrenia sufferer, facing the screen.

Ten-month-old infants determine the value of a goal from how hard someone works to achieve it

November 23, 2017
Babies as young as 10 months can assess how much someone values a particular goal by observing how hard they are willing to work to achieve it, according to a new study from MIT and Harvard University.

Stress in pregnancy linked to changes in infant's nervous system, less smiling, less resilience

November 23, 2017
Maternal stress during the second trimester of pregnancy may influence the nervous system of the developing child, both before and after birth, and may have subtle effects on temperament, resulting in less smiling and engagement, ...

Domestic violence turns women off masculine men

November 23, 2017
Women who are afraid of violence within partnerships prefer more feminine men, according to new research carried out by scientists at the University of St Andrews.

Study finds infection and schizophrenia symptom link

November 22, 2017
If a mother's immune system is activated by infection during pregnancy, it could result in critical cognitive deficits linked to schizophrenia in her offspring, a University of Otago study has revealed.

Schizophrenia drug development may be 'de-risked' with new research tool

November 22, 2017
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) have identified biomarkers that can aid in the development of better treatments for schizophrenia.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.