Omega-3, Depression, and Mood: What New Studies Suggest

Omega-3 and Depression

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 8% of Canadian adults will experience major depression at some point in their lives, and 5% are currently struggling with an anxiety disorder [1]. Depression and mood disorders also threaten the wellbeing of Canadian youth—the CMHA states that 5% of males and 12% of females aged 12-19 will face depression as well [1].

Mental health disorders are a very serious issue, and much research has been done to explore various ways to treat and cope with the symptoms of depression and anxiety—including omega-3 supplementation.

Can Omega-3 Help With Depression?

While the exact cause of depression is unknown, it seems to depend on a number of factors including genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Research has linked depression to inflammation in the brain [2]. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to exhibit an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, and thus their impact on depression has also been researched [2].

Dietary Intake of Omega-3 and Depression

Recently (2016), the first meta-analysis including 26 studies and over 150,000 individuals evaluating the association between fish consumption and depression risk was published, and found that higher fish consumption is significantly associated with reduced risk of depression [3].

Omega-3 Supplementation and Depression

Now, new research suggests that omega-3 may have a profound impact on the symptoms of depression and other mood disorders. A meta-analysis conducted by the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s examined the results of 13 different studies and found a positive association between a diet rich in omega-3 and a beneficial effect on the symptoms of depression [4].

Omega-3 Could Reduce Future Symptoms Of Depression

Another recent study suggests that the level of omega-3 in your blood before supplementation may be a predictor of how well one responds to supplementation [5]. According to this study, individuals who already had higher levels of omega-3 in their blood responded much more strongly to additional omega-3 supplementation as part of their treatment strategy against the symptoms of depression versus those with lower baseline levels [5].

What Kind Of Omega-3 Is Best For Depression?

Given the above-noted research—which suggests that the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 may contribute to reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety—an omega-3 product higher in EPA could be the most effective choice for an individual suffering from depression or anxiety [6,7]. Two published meta-analyses showed that omega-3 products containing a higher ratio of EPA were more effective in treating the symptoms of depression than products containing a higher ratio of DHA [6,7].

No matter what your reason is for taking omega-3, you should always choose a fish oil product that is pure and potent. Fish oil that has oxidized and gone rancid—or doesn’t live up to the claims it makes on the label—will not give you the same health benefits of omega-3 as a higher quality product.

What Dose Of Omega-3 Should I Take For Depression?

If you are thinking of taking omega-3 or any other supplement or medication to treat the symptoms of depression, make sure you talk to your doctor first. He or she can assess your specific treatment needs and help you make a well-informed decision, which may include medical treatment for your symptoms of depression.

A meta-analysis published in 2011 found that supplements containing EPA ≥60% of total EPA + DHA, in a dose range of 200 to 2,200 mg/d of EPA in excess of DHA, were effective against primary depression [7]. Your needs may vary, however—so be sure to talk to a medical professional before increasing your dosage of omega-3.

Talk To Your Doctor About Depression

Depression is a very serious issue and, unfortunately, many people suffering from it and other mood disorders don’t feel comfortable talking about it. If you suspect you are suffering from depression, it’s important to tell a medical professional about your symptoms so you can get the help you need and deserve.

The good news is that exciting new research shows that omega-3 supplementation may have a positive impact on depression.

1. Association, C.M.H. Fast Facts about Mental Illness. [website] 2016  [cited 2016 13/04/16]; Available from:
2. Rosenblat, J.D., et al., Inflamed moods: a review of the interactions between inflammation and mood disorders. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry, 2014. 53: p. 23-34.
3. Li, F., X. Liu, and D. Zhang, Fish consumption and risk of depression: a meta-analysis. J Epidemiol Community Health, 2016. 70(3): p. 299-304.
4. Mocking, R.J., et al., Meta-analysis and meta-regression of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for major depressive disorder. Transl Psychiatry, 2016. 6: p. e756.
5. Carney, R.M., et al., Baseline blood levels of omega-3 and depression remission: a secondary analysis of data from a placebo-controlled trial of omega-3 supplements. J Clin Psychiatry, 2016. 77(2): p. e138-43.
6. Martins, J.G., EPA but not DHA appears to be responsible for the efficacy of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in depression: evidence from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Am Coll Nutr, 2009. 28(5): p. 525-42.
7. Sublette, M.E., et al., Meta-analysis of the effects of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in clinical trials in depression. J Clin Psychiatry, 2011. 72(12): p. 1577-84.

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