Fish Oil: Can it Treat Depression?

Fish oil is a popular nutritional supplement, high in omega 3 fatty acids, an anti-inflammatory that can help reduce the risk of heart disease and possibly other health problems as well. In addition, there is some evidence that fish oil can help treat depression.

There have been several studies reporting an anti-depression effect from omega 3s, and it has become popular as an alternative to other natural depression fighters like St. John’s Wort. A study published in 1998 by the Journal of Affective Disorders found that omega 3s were lower in those with depression. On the heels of this, a larger study was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry which examined those with bipolar disorder. Of the group taking a fish oil supplement of 10,000 mgs per day, in four months they reported improvement in symptoms compared to only 20% improvement in those taking a placebo.

Of course, as is often the case with scientific studies, results have been conflicting. Probably one of the largest negative studies was published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011. The researchers followed almost 55,000 depression-free women for ten years, and during that time almost 3,000 cases of depression had developed. However, there was no correlation found between fish oil consumption and risk of depression. One interesting result from the study was a suggestion that the flax oil version of omega 3 (ALA) may actually have an effect on depression, and the researchers recommended follow up study. ALA is a type of omega 3 that is mainly present in flax oil, and is known to not be as effective at preventing cardiovascular disease as the fish oil versions of omega 3 (called DHA and EPA). But, it would be interestig if it had a greater effect on depression...

There has also been suggestions that fish oil may help prevent postpartum depression in pregnant women. A few small-scale studies have reported this effect, but as with regular clinical depression, evidence is conflicting.

So, for now at least, it is unknown if fish oil has the ability to reduce depression or not. If you decide to try it, let your doctor know as it may alter your mood unexpectedly.