Natural Depression Fighter: Omega-3s

August 17, 2016
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

There is new and exciting evidence that just might offer some sweet relief to people living with clinical depression.

Evidence continues piling up that adequate dietary intake of omega-3s not only keeps depression from developing—it can also reduce symptoms in those already suffering.

What a godsend that would be. The implications are staggering, not just for those suffering or vulnerable to depression, but for the U.S. at large—all of us.

The depression epidemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) doesn’t mince words.

WHO projects that by 2020—in just four years—depression will be the world’s second biggest cause of disability. Only coronary heart disease causes more stress and distress, to both individuals and the people and institutions increasingly called on to care for them.

And who’s the world’s Number 1 in the percentage of population with clinical depression?

Home, sweet home.

Danger! SAD diet!

The Standard American diet (perfect acronym: SAD) is a recipe for disastrous health consequences. Not just some of them. Just about all of them—diabetes, heart disease, obesity, neurodegenerative diseases, kidney and lung diseases, high blood pressure, all sorts of cancer…

You name it, there’s a mountain of evidence that SAD plays a leading role in kicking it into play. No surprise. Over-processed, over-salted, over-sweetened, under-nutritious—it’s not food, it’s like eating a chemistry lab.

We’ve seen years of anecdotal evidence that omega-3-rich diets and super-long, maximally-healthy lives go hand in hand. The Mediterranean Diet is a stellar example. So is the typical diet in Okinawa, where people live about forever. It’s estimated to have eight times more omega-3s than the SAD diet.

The anecdotes now have science’s seal of approval.

It all points to omega-3s

The two key omega-3s, DHA and EPA, play essential but different roles in the body.

DHA is vital for the brain’s optimal growth, development, and function. EPA serves as a wide-ranging anti-inflammatory—calming the “fires” in the brain and throughout the body that increasingly appear to be the genesis points of virtually every disease.

Many studies show both to be important for reducing depression and a host of other inflammatory conditions. Fortunately, they’re plentiful in many foods, especially cold water fish, and they’re also available in supplement form.

Recent research says YES

A recent meta-analysis reviewed 13 studies of 1,233 participants with major depressive symptoms. They were looking for evidence of the effects of omega-3 supplements on those symptoms. They also hoped to determine the optimal doses and ratios of DHA to EPA that would be most effective against symptoms.

The depressed patients who supplemented with omega-3s—especially those who took higher doses of EPA—experienced a significant reduction in symptoms.

Another study recently confirmed that omega-3s help managing depression. An analysis of 35 trials looked at 6,665 participants receiving omega-3s and 4,373 receiving placebo. The patients with diagnosed depression who took omega-3 formulations experienced greater clinical benefit compared to placebo.

As a partner with prescription meds

Omega-3s also help make prescription antidepressants more effective—a win-win finding for patients and the antidepressants.

I’m not a fan of such medications—with their often dreadful side effects and limited efficacy. But if patients benefit, I’m OK with it, at least until natural interventions outperform Big Pharma’s offerings.

Putting omega-3s to work

Convinced that more omega-3 is worth a try?

Make sure your prescribing doctor is up to date on omega-3’s ability to complement your current medications.

Then, slowly add omega-3s, while “weaning” off the medication.

You must go slowly. Changing intake of any prescription drug is a delicate matter—you’re asking every cell in your body to modify its behavior.

I recommend starting with a minimum 1,500 mg/day omega-3 supplement along with your current prescription. You and your doctor will watch for changes. I’ve seen patients who needed quite a bit more to make a difference.

It won’t happen overnight. It might take weeks. Everyone’s different.

But I promise, when you’re taking omega-3s along with, or instead of, your prescription, you’ll feel a difference. It might very well be a joyful one.

By the way, I can’t talk about depression without urging everyone affected to take up meditation. It’s another extraordinary healer of the mind, and therefore, of the body. Free of side effects, free of charge, free to be practiced anywhere.

Take good care.

References

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