Posted by: Chris Maloney | November 1, 2011

Do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Help with Depression?

DHA Molecule

Image via Wikipedia

I saw the CNN Health expert’s answer on this question ( and was left with a “huh?” response despite having a degree in the subject and studying these things for years.

Dr. Charles Raison discusses the positive population studies, extending right up to the societal level, for people who eat foods high in Omega-3.  Then he switches over to looking at the placebo control trials for depression, which don’t show a lot more effect than placebo.  What he doesn’t mention is that almost anything you take for depression, including the newer drugs over a longer period like a year, don’t outperform placebo.  Taking anything for depression helps with depression, it’s not a very good way to judge results.

But if we stick together all of those insignificant results on depression into a meta-analysis, we get…confusing results.

As a result, Dr. Raison finishes by saying: “if you do use an omega-3 fatty acid, make sure you get one that is mostly EPA.”  Does he recommend them?  Does he think they’re a waste of time?  I have no idea.

Here’s what we do know.  A lifestyle that increases omega-3 fatty acids as part of diet has been shown to be effective at multiple levels.  Isolating out just omega-3 supplements and continuing with a SAD (Standard American Diet) lifestyle is much less successful.  So if you are planning to just add in omega-3’s, you would need to do so with a pretty robust dosage.  I have the dubious honor of witnessing a patient take so much omega-3 that he gave himself a gallbladder attack (that was eight ounces daily).  So do consult with your physician on this one.

A much better choice would be to examine the lifestyles of the cultures that are much less depressed and emulate not only their omega-3 intake but also their lifestyle choices.  Within that sort of lifestyle overhaul, omega-3 intake is very likely to help with depression.



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