Feature Archive

Fish Oil to Treat Depression?

Omega-3's may have an affect on serotonin levels.

WebMD Feature Dave thinks a lot about fish these days. Study after study has suggested benefits for omega-3 fatty acids, which are plentiful in certain fish oils. But what intrigues Dave isn't that omega-3's might reduce his risk of heart attack, or ease the pain of arthritis. He's hoping to lubricate his mind.

A handful of small studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids can help smooth out the mood swings of bipolar disorder. There are few effective treatments against the disease, so the news is a hot topic now at support groups for manic-depressives, like the Berkeley, CA, group in which Dave participates.

The first news to attract attention was a 1998 report in the Journal of Affective Disorders. Researchers noted significantly lower levels of omega-3's in the red blood cell membranes of patients with depression.

Then in the May 1999 Archives of General Psychiatry, Andrew Stoll, M.D., and colleagues reported a study of fish oil in 30 manic-depressive patients. Sixty-four percent of those who took 10 grams of fish oil per day for four months reported a marked improvement in their symptoms. By contrast, only 19 percent of those receiving the placebo benefited.