Research Indicates EPA Successfully Treats Depression




Daily supplements of an omega-3 fatty acid--found in flax and flax oil as well as fish and fish oil--may help alleviate the symptoms of depression in patients who do not respond to standard antidepressant medications, new research findings suggest.

Dr. Malcolm Peet of the Swallownest Court Hospital in Sheffield, England and his colleague found that depressed patients who received a daily dose of 1 gram of an omega-3 fatty acid for 12 weeks experienced a decrease in their symptoms, such as sadness, anxiety and sleeping problems.

The only side effect of the treatment appeared to be gastrointestinal problems, which Peet and his co-author Dr. David F. Horrobin of Laxdale Research, Ltd. in Stirling, Scotland, deemed "mild."

All of the patients had tried other medications before enrolling in the current study, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac and medications from an older family of drugs called tricyclic antidepressants. Both types of drug are considered standard treatments for depression.

This is not the first study to suggest that omega-3 fatty acids, such as the form of eicosapenaenoic acid (EPA) used in this report, may help patients with psychiatric disorders. Previous researchers have suggested that the balance of omega-3 fatty acids in the brain may become skewed in people with depression, and earlier studies have shown that flax and fish oil supplements can help alleviate the symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, or manic depression.

In addition, researchers have found that people who are depressed, as well as those diagnosed with cardiovascular diseases and other conditions associated with depression, have relatively low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood.

STUDY ABSTRACT:

Authors: Malcolm Peet, MB, ChB, FRCPsych; David F. Horrobin, DPhil, BM, BCh

Background

In depressed patients, low blood levels of eicosapentaenoic [EPA - an omega-3 fatty acid--found in flax, fish and fish oil] acid are seen. We tested the antidepressive effect of ethyl-eicosapentaenoate in these patients.

Methods

We included 70 patients with persistant depression despite ongoing treatment with an adequate dose of a standard antidepressant. Patients were randomized on a double-blind basis to placebo or ethyl-eicosapentaenoate at dosages of 1, 2, or 4 g/d for 12 weeks in addition to unchanged background medication. Patients underwent assessment using the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale, and the Beck Depression Inventory.

Results

Forty-six (88%) of 52 patients receiving ethyl-eicosapentaenoate and 14 (78%) of 18 patients receiving placebo completed the 12-week study with no serious adverse events. The 1-g/d group showed a significantly better outcome than the placebo group on all 3 rating scales. In the intention-to-treat group, 5 (29%) of 17 patients receiving placebo and 9 (53%) of 17 patients receiving 1 g/d of ethyl-eicosapentaenoate achieved a 50% reduction on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale score. In the per-protocol group, the corresponding figures were 3 (25%) of 12 patients for placebo and 9 (69%) of 13 patients for the 1-g/d group. The 2-g/d group showed little evidence of efficacy, whereas the 4-g/d group showed nonsignificant trends toward improvement. All of the individual items on all 3 rating scales improved with the 1-g/d dosage of ethyl-eicosapentaenoate vs placebo, with strong beneficial effects on items rating depression, anxiety, sleep, lassitude, libido, and suicidality.

Conclusion

Treatment with ethyl-eicosapentaenoate at a dosage of 1 g/d was effective in treating depression in patients who remained depressed despite adequate standard therapy.