Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Can Omega-3's Help with Depression?

Depression is a silent disease that according to the World Health Organization, affects about 121 million people world wide.  In fact, in the United States, a person has a 23.2% chance of suffering a major depressive episode by the age of 75!  There is a major rift between people with depression and those without, and the non-specific symptoms ranging from insomnia and anxiety to listlessness and social withdrawal, leaves those not afflicted with depression wondering why their friends, family, and colleagues can’t simply “get over it”.  Currently, research has shown that the most effective treatments for depression is a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy and anti-depressant medications, but what if we could do more to support recovery?
            The causes of depression are not well understood but patient suffering from depressive episodes demonstrate dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and a heightened inflammatory state.  Now, the one thing we know about inflammation is that food can help!  No really, if you make a few simple changes to your diet, you can lower the oxidative stress in your body and help lower your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and other associated autoimmune disorders.  And, it WILL help your mood!
            Now, the praises of omega-3 fatty acids can never be sung loud enough, and this is particularly true when thinking about depression and inflammation.  When it comes to depression, unfortunately flax and walnuts aren’t going to cut it so you need to eat fish or take fish oil to get the proper doses.  Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines are your heavy hitters and it’s recommended that you consume two servings of fatty fish per week to sustain general health.  But, is this enough to help with depression?  Three ounces of cooked salmon will contain about 1 gram of omega-3’s and will meet your daily recommended amount.  However, the current recommendations to combat depression, in conjunction with other therapies, is 1-2 grams of omega-3’s per day!  Now, fish oil contains both the omega-3’s EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA (docosahexanoic acid) but current research indicates that EPA is the most effective in treating depression. 
            So, what’s the bottom line here? If you would like to use omega-3 fatty acids in combination with your other therapies such as anti-depressants and counseling, the recommendation is to take 1-2 grams of EPA per day.  The supplement can also contain DHA and it will certainly not hurt you in the least but it’s really the EPA we are looking for to help ameliorate your depression.  And of course, just because you are taking a supplement doesn’t mean you should stop eating fish because those fatty fish contain other healthy nutrients besides just the omega-3’s! 
            Give it a try and tell me what you think.  What other dietary changes have helped you on your road to recovery from depression?

Depression: Advancing the Treatment Paradigm, A Functional Medicine Monograph. R. Hedaya and S. Quinn.  The Institute for Functional Medicine: 2008.

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