Omega-3 Shown to Reduce Rates of Depression in Patients with High Levels of Inflammation

Omega-3 Shown to Reduce Rates of Depression in Patients with High Levels of Inflammation

Posted: October 14, 2014

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Research published in Biological Psychiatry (January 27, 2014) shows that Omega-3 fatty acids, or fish oils, can reduce symptoms of depression in patients with high levels of inflammation. The researchers worked with patients diagnosed with chronic Hepatitis C virus (HCV) who were receiving interferon-alpha (or INF-alpha) therapy as treatment.

INF-alpha has long been a mainstay of HCV treatment and despite the emergence of newer medications continues to be a standard course of treatment.  Both treatment with INF-alpha and a diagnosis of a chronic illness such as HCV have been linked to depression. Thirty percent of all patients who receive INF-alpha therapy will be diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) within the first 3 months of treatment. This is enough to establish a link to depression, but not enough to prescribe antidepressants to all such patients, even though effectively treating depression in patients with chronic disease improves medication adherence as well as overall patient outcomes.  

Carmine M. Pariante, M.D., Ph.D., FRC Psych, a 2003 and 2005 NARSAD Grantee was lead author of the study, and Kuan-Pin-Su, M.D., 2008 NARSAD Grantee,  also participated in the research conducted at the Institute of Psychiatry/King’s College London. The researchers followed 152 patients infected with HCV who were randomized to receive two weeks of treatment with one of two types of Omega-3—DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) or EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)—or placebo (no active compound). After the two weeks of treatment, the patients received 24-weeks of INF-alpha therapy.  

While EPA was found to be more beneficial than DHA, the researchers concluded that a combination of EPA/DHA may be the best prevention strategy for patients with depression associated with inflammation.  Dr. Pariante explained, “Our study shows that even a short course of a nutritional supplement containing one type of omega-3 fatty acid (EPA) reduced the rates of new onset depression to 10%, as opposed to the rate of 30% we usually see in this group.”

The researchers report that the work confirms that anti-inflammatory strategies are effective antidepressants in the context of depression associated with inflammation. Dr. Pariante said, “We believe that this nutritional intervention restores the natural protective anti-inflammatory capabilities of the body, and thus protects patients from new-onset depression when inflammation occurs.”

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