Is fish oil effective for treating depression?
Just this past week a new patient in my practice asked me that question and I said that I didn’t know.
I mentioned that ever since a study of people with bipolar depression was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry (the leading journal in psychiatry) by Andy Stoll in 1999 there has been a lot of interest in using fish oil to treat depression. I added that there is a compelling story suggesting that our changing diet may be causing problems for our brain, because the fatty acids in fish oil are essential for the proper functioning of brain cells (neurons). And I mentioned that I take fish oil myself. But, I concluded, my own experience has been less than overwhelming. I have not been able to convince myself that fish oil supplements have made a difference in any of my patient’s mental health.
Then I thought to myself that my answer wasn’t a very good one.
It was with relief that I saw that there was a new Cochrane review on the subject. Cochrane reviews are highly regarded, unbiased reviews of the literature in a given area of medicine and I figured this one would finally answer my questions.
I was wrong.
This is a summary of the review in Psych Congress Network –
Current evidence is insufficient to determine whether omega-3 fatty acid supplements are helpful in treating major depressive disorders, according to a new Cochrane review.
“At present, we just don’t have enough high quality evidence to determine the effects of omega-3 fatty acids as a treatment for major depressive disorder,” said lead author Katherine Appleton, PhD, associate professor in psychology at Bournemouth University in England. “It’s important that people who suffer from depression are aware of this, so that they can make more informed choices about treatment.”
Dr. Appleton and colleagues looked at data from 26 randomized studies involving a total 1,458 participants…
“We found a small-to-modest positive effect of omega 3-fatty acids compared to placebo, but the size of this effect is unlikely to be meaningful to people with depression, and we considered the evidence to be of low or very low quality,” Dr. Appleton said. “All studies contributing to our analyses were of direct relevance to our research question, but most of these studies are small and of low quality.”
So 15 years after the initial study we still don’t know the answer.
For more on fish oil –
- Appleton KM, Sallis HM, Perry R, Ness AR, Churchill R. Omega-3 fatty acids for depression in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015 Nov. 5. [Epub ahead of print].
- Insufficient evidence for the use of omega 3 supplements in treating depression [press release]. EurekAlert: Washington, DC; Nov. 4, 2015.