Effects of fish oil on depression

There is now plenty of research data about the effects of fish oil on depression, or better - Omega-3s and depression. But is it trustworthy? As a therapist I 'm really happy that I can recommend fish oil for treating depression - it's so much safer than taking antidepressants.

Good fats, including fish oil, ensure that your nerve cells in particular have a healthy membrane (the sheath that covers the cells). A healthy membrane ensures an easy passage for nutrients and natural chemicals in and out of the cells' nucleus, as well as efficient transmission of electrical 'messages'.

Web MD reports:


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“Cell membranes are made up, partly, of omega-3s. It is possible that increasing the omega-3 levels makes it possible for serotonin— - a chemical that carries messages from one brain cell to another - —to pass through cell membranes.”

However, just because there is a deficiency, it doesn't mean that we necessarily need to supplement/overdose by buying stuff from the chemist. And in particular - we're unlikely to need to do so, if we can get the right amount from our food.

Oh... and then there's also the issue of the link between serotonin and depression, but that's for another page.

Let's see though what those benefits were thought to be...

Please consult your health-care provider/physician to discuss the information I have provided.

To illustrate how closely fish oil, but in particular DHA - one of its components - is said to link with depression, have a look at this study. It reports on the link between low levels of omega-3 and suicide in US veterans.

Dr. Sears on the effects of fish oil on depression

Dr Barry Sears, who is said to have extensively researched Omega 3, describes in one of his books how close humankind came to extinction about 150,000 years ago. But then, humans began eating fish. Our modern brains and world domination as a species are supposed to be the result!

He describes in “"The Omega Zone"” that Eskimos have an intake of about 7g of Omega-3s every day and know nearly no depression -– despite the lack of sunlight.

He also describes a link between our decline in Omega-3 intake in the last 100 years and the rise in mental problems.

Remember the link between fish oil and depression involving serotonin? Well, here's another one...

Dr. Andrew Stoll explains a bit more about why fish oil and depression are linked in his book "The Omega-3 Connection". He wrote:

Using an imaging test known as SPECT, researchers have found that blood flow within a normal brain is uniform, whereas blood flow in depressed patients is scattered with 'holes' in which little or no blood flow is observed.  Since high dose fish oil can improve blood flow, we have another clue to explain the molecular basis of depression.”

How much fish oil is needed for fighting depression?  I've seen various doses prescribed by different researchers, ranging from 1 - 3g per day, but I do recommend that you have a look at my page on the Side Effects of Omega-3 if you are considering taking fish oil for depression or indeed for anything at all.

Studies on the effects of fish oil on depression

Here is a study from the American Medical Association —Archives of General Psychiatry, 2002; 59:913-919. In this study, the results revealed the following:

The vast majority completed the 12-week study with no serious adverse events. Most studies for antidepressant drugs have a higher drop out rate even if the study is half as long. The 1 gram per day group showed a significantly better outcome than the placebo group on all scales. In one group 5 (29%) of 17 patients receiving a placebo and 9 (53%) of 17 patients receiving one gram of ethyl-eicosapentaenoate (EPA) achieved a 50% score reduction on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale.”

The following is from a newsletter from food for the brain:

A review of 14 separate studies found that levels of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA (found in oily fish and fish oil) are lower in people with depression. In this meta-analysis (pooling of data from a number of separate studies into the same topic), researchers found that the blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA (both of which are found in oily fish and fish oil) and total omega-3 fatty acids (found also in flax seeds, walnuts and leafy greens) were significantly lower in depressed patients compared to ‘controls’ (people without depression). At present there isn'’t enough evidence to say conclusively that omega-3’s have an antidepressant effect (although this is the topic of ongoing research), it does show an association between low levels of omega-3 and low mood.

Lin PY, Huang SY, Su KP. A meta-analytic review of polyunsaturated fatty acid compositions in patients with depression. Biol Psychiatry. 68(2):140-7, 2010.

In short, I really want you to research the subject of fish oil and depression to ensure you do the best for your health. I so want to help you avoid taking pharmaceutical antidepressants with all their negative consequences, but I am also worried that a deficiency in omega 3 is a red herring.

I have several articles with lots of information on omega 3/fish oil and on the treatment of depression for you to explore.

You do want to try omega 3 for depression?
How long before you would feel the benefits?

How long after you start taking fish oil for depression will you begin to feel its effects? The answer really depends on your individual make-up, just like it would with any type of medical intervention or medication.  

Every person is different - you are as unique as the stars!

However, you may see an improvement in as little as 3 weeks. 1g seems to do the job for most people within about 12 weeks. Dr. Barry Sears treats his patients with high doses for heavy brain deterioration (Alzheimers, dementia etc.) - he reports: with great success.

But: he is a doctor and uses a blood test to measure the needed amount of Omega-3s. Also, I want you to consider at what cost to your general health would you take fish oil for depression.

Click here to read more about the benefits of omega 3.

Related Articles

Comprehensive List of Natural Antidepressant Remedies
Comprehensive List of Natural Sleep Remedies
The Best Ways of Dealing with Depression
The Most Common Relationship Problems
How to Manage the Different Stresses in Your Life

Other Helpful Links

Archives of General Psychiatry - Omega 3 fatty acids in bipolar disorder
Ohio State University: Omega 3, depression and inflammation

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Elly Prior

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