The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil can help treat mild to moderate depression, and now a study from Canada suggests that these essential fatty acids might also help people suffering from major depression. Researchers at the University of Montreal and other participating medical centers in Canada recruited 432 men and women suffering from unipolar depression for a randomized, double-blind study testing omega-3 supplements against a placebo. Many of the patients had complex and difficult to treat depression, and many hadn’t responded to earlier treatment with prescribed antidepressants. After eight weeks, the investigators saw a "clear benefit" in patients who suffered from depression alone, but not in those who also had anxiety disorders. The investigators noted that the improvements were comparable to those generally seen with conventional anti-depressant treatment and concluded that additional research will be needed to test omega-3s head to head against antidepressants. The daily doses used in the study were 1,050 mg of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and 150 mg of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
My take? A number of studies have suggested that a deficit of omega-3s may predispose to depression. I recommend two to threegrams of fish oil a day, providing both EPA and DHA in a ratio of about three or four to one for mild to moderate depression along with other approaches including regular exercise, at least 30 minutes five days a week. Exercise is the most effective treatment I know for mild to moderate depression. Results of the study on the effectiveness of fish oil for patients with major depression appear promising. I look forward to future studies comparing this treatment with pharmaceutical anti-depressants.
Here's what I have to say about omega-3s for vegetarians and vegans.