(NaturalNews) Increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids may be one of the safest, easiest ways to battle depression, research suggests.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish and canola oil, flax seeds, chia seeds, kiwifruit and purslane.
Interest in a relationship between omega-3s and depression began with a number of correlational studies. Many epidemiological studies have found that populations with higher fish consumption report lower rates of depression, postpartum depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder than nations with lower fish consumption. Similar effects have been seen within nations, with lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts among people who eat more fish. A study in New Zealand found that people who ate more fish rated their mental health status more highly than people who ate less fish.
Studies have also shown that people with low levels of omega-3s in their bodies are significantly more likely to suffer from depression and other psychological disorders.
Clinical research confirms the link
A number of clinical trials have supported the effectiveness omega-3 supplementation as a way to alleviate depression symptoms, particularly in patients who have not responded to treatment with antidepressant drugs.
One such study was conducted by researchers from the University of Pavia, Italy, and published in the Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging in 2011. In a double-blind experiment, researchers randomly assigned 46 depressed women between the ages of 66 and 95 to take a supplement consisting of either omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids or a placebo. The omega-3 supplement consisted of 1.67 g per day of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 0.83 g per day of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
After two months, women who had been taking omega-3s showed significant improvements on measures of depression and mental and physical health status; no such improvement was seen in the placebo group.
"The supplementation of omega-3 LCPUFA in elderly female patients reduces the occurrence of depressive symptoms, improves phospholipids fatty acids profile and health-related quality of life," the researchers wrote.
Effective across a broad spectrum
One of the most comprehensive investigations of omega-3s' effects on depression was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in 2010. More than 400 men and women participated in the randomized, double-blind study, and were assigned to take three capsules a day of either a placebo or a fish oil supplement with high concentrations of EPA. Unlike many clinical trials of antidepressant drugs, the study included large numbers of patients with hard-to-treat conditions, including people suffering from both depression and anxiety and people whose depression had not responded to drugs. This was meant to gain a sense of how omega-3s would function in a more real-world setting.
The researchers found that after eight weeks, depression symptoms had significantly decreased among those who took the omega-3 supplement, but only among patients who also suffered from anxiety. The improvement was comparable to the improvement seen in studies performed on the effectiveness of antidepressants among an easier-to-treat population.