Fish Oil and Depression: A New Treatment Option?

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Fishing for a way to lift your spirits? A University of Montreal study into fish oil and depression suggests a fish oil supplement can help.

Fall’s sunny skies have dulled to the gray milieu of winter, and, for some, the change to dreary weather brings with it a similar change in temperament. A simple, natural mood lifter worth trying? Fish oil.

According to a study from researchers at the University of Montreal, eicosapentaenoic acid (referred to as EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil, can decrease symptoms of depression (no matter the season) in people who do not have an anxiety disorder. The study, published in June in the online Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, was the largest ever conducted examining fish oil and depression. Half of the study’s 432 participants took a fish oil supplement with a high concentration of eicosapentaenoic acid, while the other half took a placebo. After eight weeks, depressed participants taking the fish oil supplement experienced a notable decrease in their depression symptoms compared with those taking the placebo.

The fish oil supplement used in the study had a higher concentration of EPA than is available in the average diet. Nevertheless, you can boost your intake of this beneficial nutrient by taking a fish oil supplement, and by eating foods rich in EPA, such as salmon, tuna, and other cold water fish. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends consuming no more than 3 grams of the omega-3s in fish oil — eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — per day, with no more than 2 grams per day coming from a dietary supplement. Anyone taking blood thinners or blood pressure medication should consult a doctor before taking a fish oil supplement.

Dr. François Lespérance, director of the Montreal study, says assessing the true efficacy of dietary changes on treating depression is difficult given the complications of carrying out such studies in a controlled setting. Even so, fish oil is a natural way to perhaps make that yawning distance from winter to spring a little easier to weather.

Megan Hirt is an Associate Editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Find her on .