Fish oil supplements are often touted as good for your heart health, but a new study finds they may also help fight depression.
"Using a combination of laboratory and patient research, our study has provided exciting new insight into how omega-3 fatty acids bring about anti-inflammatory effects that improve depression," said lead author Alessandra Borsini, a postdoctoral neuroscientist at King's College London.
Borsini said it's been known that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids have anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory effects, but exactly how that happens has been unclear.
"Our study has helped shine a light on the molecular mechanisms involved in this relationship, which can inform the development of potential new treatments for depression using omega-3 PUFA," Borsini said in a university news release.
Previous studies have shown that people with major depression have elevated levels of inflammation, but no proven anti-inflammatory treatments for depression exist.
The patient portion of this new study included 22 people with major depression.
Once a day for 12 weeks, they were given one of two omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) -- either 3 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or 1.4 grams of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
EPA and DHA are omega-3 PUFAs found in oily fish.
Byproducts of EPA and DHA were measured in the patients' blood before and after treatment, and their depression symptoms were assessed.
Treatment with both omega-3s was associated with a significant improvement in depression, with an average 64% drop in symptoms for the EPA group and 71% in the DHA group. It does not prove cause-and-effect, however.
The findings were published June 16 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
The levels of EPA and DHA used in this study can't be achieved by eating oily fish, the researchers noted.
Senior study author Carmen Pariante, a professor of biological psychiatry, said the research has provided vital information to help shape clinical trials of therapeutic approaches with omega-3 fatty acids.
"It is important to highlight that our research has not shown that by simply increasing omega-3 fatty acids in our diets or through taking nutritional supplements we can reduce inflammation or depression," she said. "The mechanisms behind the associations between depression and omega-3 PUFA are complicated and require further research and clinical trials to fully understand how they work and inform future therapeutic approaches."
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on depression.
SOURCE: King's College London, news release, June 15, 2021