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12 Jan 2016

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may not be as effective for treating major depressive disorder as originally thought.

Researchers have found the common supplement may offer only a small enhancement to mood.

Omega-3 fatty acids are widely thought to be essential for good health and are found naturally in fatty fish and some nuts and seeds.

Clinical trials have indicated that omega-3 can be effective as an adjunctive medication for people with treatment-resistant depression. Recent clinical trials are also suggesting the fatty acid may be effective treatment for childhood depression and for depressed mood in patients who engage in recurrent self-harm.

University of Bournemouth researchers analysed data from 26 randomised trials involving more than 1400 participants, which examined the impact of an omega-3 fatty acid capsule supplement compared with a placebo.

They found that while patients given omega-3 fatty acids reported lower symptom scores than patients on the placebo, the effect was small. The researchers also questioned the validity of the trials saying that most had limitations that undermined their confidence in the results. To understand the effects and risks of taking omega-3 fatty acids to enhance mood the researchers said more data was needed.

Lead author Associate Professor Katherine Appleton said there wasn’t enough high quality evidence to determine the effects of omega-3 fatty acids as a credible treatment for major depressive disorder.

“It’s important that people who suffer from depression are aware of this, so they can make more informed choices about treatment,” Associate Professor Appleton said.

“We found a small-to-modest positive effect of omega-3 fatty acids compared to placebo, but the size of this effect is unlikely to be meaningful to people with depression, and we considered the evidence to be of low or very low quality.”

The research was published by the Cochrane Library.

Kirsty Waterford

Published: 12 Jan 2016