Omega-3 supplements are amongst the highest selling items in the over-counter health market. A significant factor in their popularity is the much vaunted health benefits to be gained from consuming foods groups and supplements rich in Omega-3. Many people are aware of the benefits of oily fish, nuts and seeds. Consumption of the fatty acids should be sufficient as part of a well balanced diet but that hasn’t stopped many millions of us topping up.
In relation to major depressive disorder the evidence as to its merits at really quite sketchy. The gold standard Cochrane review for evidence based material recently published a report questioning the merits of existing studies. The report, pooled from 26 randomised trials involving 1,458 participants, compared Omega-3 intake with placebo. When analysed it was found that participants taking Omega-3 reported lower symptom scores to those on placebo but that the clinical effects for major depressive disorder would have been meaningless.
Lead author, Dr. Katharine Appleton does point out that the studies in the review were small and of low quality. Put another way, we still lack high quality evidence in order to properly evaluate the merits of Omega-3 for depression.
But where does the Omega-3 trail for depression begin? Essentially it comes down to speculation that modern day diets may be associated with the rapid increase in depression. Our love of sugary, fatty processed foods means we have left behind a simpler but healthier intake. As Omega-3 is considered essential to brain function it followed that any reduction in it could cause an imbalance sufficent to manifest symptoms of depression.
The jury is still out on Omega-3. However a well balanced diet, which will inevitably include foods groups containing Omega-3, is essential for good general health. This, both directly and indirectly, is bound to have implications for our mental health and wellbeing.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.