Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Ease Depression

ByABC News
September 16, 2002, 6:44 PM

Sept. 17 -- You are what you eat and your mood could be affected by your diet, as well.

For the last decade, researchers and alternative medicine practitioners have been exploring a new, natural way to treat those suffering from depression and other psychiatric disorders. And what they've found is that improving your mood could be as simple as making minor adjustments to your diet.

One lead researcher, Dr. Joseph Hibbeln, chief of the outpatient clinic at the National Institutes of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda, Md., published a study in 1998 in the journal The Lancet that showed a connection between countries that consume large amounts of fish and low rates of depression. On the other hand, countries where people did not eat a lot of fish had significantly higher rates of depression.

This study led other researchers to wonder whether the polyunsaturated fats known as omega-3 fatty acids found in fish could be the reason for the difference.

Dr. Andrew Stoll, director of the psychopharmacology research laboratory at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., conducted a study that focused specifically on patients with bipolar disorder. Half of the subjects were given fish oil tablets and the other half were given a placebo.

After four months, "half of the placebo cases had already relapsed into depression, where as only two out of the 15 fish-oil patients had gotten sick, and that was a huge difference," says Stoll.

The significance of these two studies sparked additional research over the last couple of years that have shown similarly promising results on the ability of omega-3 fatty acids to relieve depression.

Getting Enough Omega-3

While additional research needs to be done to prove definitively omega-3s' impact on different psychiatric disorders, some psychiatrists are now feeling confident enough to recommend that their depressed patients increase their consumption of these fatty acids. So, what are the best sources for omega-3s, and how much is needed to make a difference?