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Fish Oil May Improve Mood in Depressed Elders

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may help ease depression in the elderly, according to a study published in the European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience.

People with depression tend to have lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids than people who aren’t depressed. These fatty acids, found primarily in the oil of cold water fish, are potent anti-inflammatory agents which might help quell inflammation that can lead to altered nerve cell function. Omega-3’s might also work through a direct effect on nervous system signaling.

Several studies, but not all, have found that fish oil may positively affect depression. Of the two major omega-3s represented in fish oil—DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)—EPA seems to have the greatest effect for this condition. Most studies suggest that the amount needed to see improvement runs on the order of about 10 grams of fish oil per day, or about 1 to 2 grams of EPA.

The new study looked at the effect of a lower dose of fish oil in 66 elderly people (average age 80 years) with mild to moderate depression. The dose was chosen in order to minimize the chance of adverse side effects and to help ensure compliance with the treatment. Half of the participants were given 1 gram of fish oil per day, containing 180 mg of EPA and 120 mg of DHA for six months. The remaining people were given a matching placebo.

At the end of the study, depression scores improved by 25% in the fish oil group compared with the placebo group. Side effects were minimal, mostly gastrointestinal in nature (including burping, reflux, and diarrhea), and were similar between the groups.

“The effect of omega-3 fatty acids on depression was demonstrated more clearly when only evaluating the participants who did not take antidepressants,” explained the study’s lead author, Yaser Tajalizadekhoob, MD, of the Tehran University of Medical Sciences. Since many elders take antidepressant medications, Dr. Tajalizadekhoob suggested that future studies focus on the effects of combination therapy using omega-3 fatty acids and antidepressants.

Dealing with depression

Try these tips to brighten your mood:

  • Eat more fish. Wild caught salmon, lake trout, and blue fin tuna are all excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Get active. Exercise boosts mood-elevating compounds in the body and is great for your heart and circulation, too.
  • Skip the sugar. Eating processed foods, especially white sugar, is a quick way to sink your spirits. To help you balance your blood sugar and feel your best, focus on whole grains, colorful fruits and veggies, legumes, and lean meats.

If you or someone you love is dealing with depression, it’s important to have a knowledgeable healthcare team in place to help manage the condition. Always speak with your doctor before starting a new supplement or changing your treatment regimen.

(Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 2011;doi:10.1007/s00406-011-0191-9)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her doctoral degree from Bastyr University, the nation’s premier academic institution for science-based natural medicine. She co-founded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, where she practiced whole family care with an emphasis on nutritional counseling, herbal medicine, detoxification, and food allergy identification and treatment. Her blog, Eat Happy, helps take the drama out of healthy eating with real food recipes and nutrition news that you can use. Dr. Beauchamp is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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