Omega-3 fatty acids may help treat depression, new research suggests. Found in oily fish, walnuts, flaxseed and other foods, as well as supplements, omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation, which has been implicated in a wide range of disorders from cardiovascular disease to type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, as we recently reported.
Now researchers are examining the link between inflammation and depression. Earlier this year, a study by researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada reported brain inflammation was 30 percent higher in people with clinical depression, compared to healthy control patients. The study was published in JAMA Psychiatry.
Omega-3 May Help Depression Sparked by Inflammation
Scientists are examining the potential of anti-inflammatory therapies to elevate mood in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). In a randomized trial conducted at Harvard, Emory, and other centers, 155 patients with MDD underwent testing to measure their baseline levels of four inflammatory biomarkers, including high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP).
The patients were randomly assigned to either take omega-3 fatty acid EPA (eicosapentataenoic acid) capsules, another type of omega-3 called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) capsules, or placebo capsules daily for eight weeks. EPA effectively boosted mood in patients who had high levels of at least one of the four inflammatory biomarkers studied. DHA was not helpful for this group, the study found.
The trial results, which were published in Molecular Psychiatry, adds to earlier research demonstrating that the anti-inflammatory drug infliximab can be effective in some patients with treatment-resistant MDD, specifically those with high levels of inflammation.
Measuring Inflammation Could Lead to New Targeted Depression Therapies
The researchers call their results a proof-of-concept for the theory that anti-inflammatory therapies could help certain subgroups of patients with depression.
“The diversity of both symptoms and underlying variations of the progression of major depressive disorder confounds the development of targeted treatments for the disease,” says study author Mark Hyman Rapaport, MD, principal investigator, and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine.
“The discovery of biomarkers that characterize subgroups of patients with MDD is critical to the understanding of its pathogenesis, and to the development of personalized therapies,” added Dr. Rapaport.
The study authors report that they have preliminary data suggesting that obese patients with depression are more likely to have elevated inflammatory markers and therefore might be helped by anti-inflammatory treatments.