Food and Behaviour Research

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The role of omega-3 fatty acids in mood disorders

Stahl LA, Begg DP, Weisinger RS, Sinclair AJ (2008) Current Opinion in Investigational Drugs 9 57-64 


Research has established that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), plays a fundamental role in brain structure and function. Epidemiological and cross-sectional studies have also identified a role for long-chain omega-3 PUFA, which includes DHA, eicosapentaenoic acid, and docosapentaenoic acid, in the etiology of depression. In the past ten years, there have been 12 intervention studies conducted using various preparations of long-chain omega-3 PUFA in unipolar and bipolar depression. The majority of these studies administered long-chain omega-3 PUFA as an adjunct therapy. The studies have been conducted over 4 to 16 weeks of intervention and have often included small cohorts. In four out of the seven studies conducted in depressed individuals and in two out of the five studies in bipolar patients, individuals have reported a positive outcome following supplementation with ethyl-eicosapentaenoic acid or fish oil containing long-chain omega-3 PUFA. In the three trials that researched the influence of DHA-rich preparations,
no significant effects were reported. The mechanisms that have been invoked to account for the benefits of long-chain omega-3 PUFA in depression include reductions in prostaglandins derived from arachidonic acid, which lead to decreased brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels and/or alterations in blood flow to the brain