Food and Behaviour Research

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Addition of omega-3 fatty acid to maintenance medication treatment for recurrent unipolar depressive disorder

Nemets, B., Stahl, Z., Belmaker, R.H. (2002) American Journal of Psychiatry 159(3) 477-9 

Web URL: Licensed uers of AmJPsychiat online can view this paper here


OBJECTIVE: Studies have reported that countries with high rates of fish oil consumption have low rates of depressive disorder. The authors studied a specific omega-3 fatty acid, the ethyl ester of eicosapentaenoic acid (E-EPA), as an adjunct to treatment for depressive episodes occurring in patients with recurrent unipolar depressive disorder who were receiving maintenance antidepressant therapy.

METHOD: Twenty patients with a current diagnosis of major depressive disorder participated in a 4-week, parallel-group, double-blind addition of either placebo or E-EPA to ongoing antidepressant therapy. Seventeen of the patients were women, and three were men.

RESULTS: Highly significant benefits of the addition of the omega-3 fatty acid compared with placebo were found by week 3 of treatment.

CONCLUSIONS: It is not possible to distinguish whether E-EPA augments antidepressant action in the manner of lithium or has independent antidepressant properties of its own.


Dietary supplementation with the long-chain omega-3 fatty acid EPA led to significant improvements in depressive symptoms within 4 weeks in this randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.

The participants were patients with clinical depression, and supplements were used in addition to antidepressant medications.

These findings support those of other clinical trials showing benefits of long-chain omega-3 for both unipolar and bipolar depression, as well as with many reports that depression is associated with low dietary intakes and blood levels of these brain-essential fats.

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