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NMU 93 –Omega-3 Fat (EPA) Shown to Improve Depression and PTSD

Nutrition / Natural Medicine Update No 93 (June 27, 2018)

with Dr. James Meschino


Topic: Omega-3 Fat (EPA) Shown to Improve Depression and PTSD

Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2008); Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry (2008); Journal of Affective Disorder (2016 and 2017)


In recent years studies have shown that omega-3 fats play an important role in the prevention and complementary management of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems, such as anxiety and psychosis. In this update, I want to share with you several eye-opening studies highlighting the impact of omega-3 fats on depression and PTSD.

The first study involved a publication in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, back in 2008. Researchers evaluated almost 1400 older subjects (mean age:74.6 years old) using a standard depression index scale.  It is known that depression affects 8-16% of older adults, although later-life depression seems underdiagnosed and undertreated. The study revealed that those with lower blood levels of the omega-3 fat, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) had higher rates of depression than those with higher EPA blood levels. In the brain, EPA is known to decrease inflammation, improve receptor function and signaling mechanisms, so that brain cells function more optimally. As we age the brain’s ability to synthesize its own EPA from other omega-3 fats becomes compromised due to more sluggish enzyme action. This results in lower blood and brain levels of EPA and possibly higher risk of depression. Hence, fish oil supplementation is thought to preserve more optimal brain levels of omega-3 fats as we age, and may also help to prevent depression. (1)

The next study of importance was also published in 2007 in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. In this study, researchers treated 60 patients with major depression using EPA (1,000 mg/d), or Fluoxetine (20 mg/d) or a combination of both for 8 weeks. The results showed that patients ingesting the omega-3 fat supplement (1,000 mg EPA) had the same treatment benefit as patients taking Fluoxetine {Prozac} (20 mg/d), but the best results occurred in patients taking the combination of the EPA and Fluoxetine. This group showed an 81% response rate, compared to just over a 50% response rate in the groups administered the EPA or the Fluoxetine as single therapies. (2)

In 2016, an important study also showed that providing PTSD patients with an omega-3 fat supplement, containing both EPA and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) resulted in decreased severity of PTSD symptoms. This study involved 110 PTSD patients who had sustained severe physical injury and were left with PTSD symptoms after conventional treatment. (3) Then, in 2017 another study involving 83 PTSD patients showed that the administration of omega-3 fats (EPA-147 mg and DHA-1,470 mg per day) for 12 weeks, decreased a key physiological PTSD symptom, which entailed lowering their resting heart rate. A major physiological symptom in many cases of PTSD is a pounding heart rate (elevated heart rate, pounding with excess force in the chest). In this study, elevated red blood cell levels of EPA were strongly associated with reducing elevated heart rate in these patients, after omega-3 fat supplementation was initiated. (4)

In conclusion, evidence continues to show that incorporating omega-3 fat supplementation (especially the use of EPA found in fish oil), into the complementary management of depression and PTSD is likely to help improve outcomes for these patients. Supplementing with omega-3 fats as we age may also help to reduce the incidence of depression in older subjects, who are highly prone to this mental health disorder. There is very little risk in taking an omega-3 fat supplement, other than its potential anti-clotting effect, which may amplify the effects of other anti-clotting medications. As such, anyone taking an anticoagulant drug should speak to their doctor before starting on an omega-3 fat supplement.

I have included the study references in the text below.


1. 2008 study.:American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: : (Depression)


2. 2008 Study: Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry (Depression):


3. 2016 Study: (PTSD) Journal of Affective Disorder (PTSD):


4. 2017 Study: Journal of Affective Disorder (PTSD):


Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great

Dr. Meschino

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