Depression is a major cause of disease burden worldwide which affects approximately 350 million people. Although there are numerous medications for the treatment of depression, less than 50% of patients take medications for depression.

According to a new study published last Wednesday in the European Journal of Nutrition, researchers demonstrated that higher red blood cell concentrations of EPA and DHA are associated with decrease in depressive treatment.

This study was a double-blinded, randomized, controlled trial including 112 individuals. Each participant took a combination product including 1 gram of EPA and 656 mg of DHA along with other nutrients including SAMe, zinc, 5-HTP, folinic acid, and co-factors or placebo for an 8-week period. Brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) and omega 3 fatty acid concentrations were significantly higher in the nutraceutical group. There was also a decrease in omega-6 fatty acid levels and arachidonic acid to EPA ratio. In addition, there was significant improvement in the Montgomery–Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) score from baseline to week 8. As a result, greater increases in EPA and DHA concentration were associated with a greater improvement in depressive symptoms.

There are potentially several mechanisms of essential fatty acids in depression. EPA and DHA both influence cell membrane fluidity. In addition, they mitigate oxidative stress and inflammation which has been linked to depression. The study demonstrated that EPA had the strongest antidepressant effect from fish oil, which has been consistent with previous research.

EPA and DHA have similar effects as compared to previous meta-analyses of those taking antidepressants. This effect is greater in studies where participants were supplementing with higher doses of EPA. The research suggests that it is not the ratio of EPA vs DHA that is important, but the higher EPA dose. It is interesting that EPA seems to be responsible for the beneficial effects of omega fatty acid supplementation while DHA concentrations appear to vary more between patients and controls. We must consider that the beneficial effects of EFA supplementation are not because the supplementation corrects a membrane DHA insufficiency, but due to the anti-inflammatory properties of EPA.

Essential fatty acids should be consumed in everyone’s diets for overall health, but most individuals are often deficient. Fish oils are essential for one’s overall health and reduce inflammation. 

Also, one should consider natural alternatives to anti-depressants such as Sceletium tortuosum and Saffron flower. Sceletium tortuosum has attracted increasing attention over past few decades for promoting a sense of wellbeing and treating depression andSaffron flower has had numerous studies demonstrating positive outcomes on MDD and has gone head to head with SSRIs demonstrating the same efficacy.

By Michael Jurgelewicz, DC, DACBN, DCBCN, CNS Source: Van der Burg KP, Cribb L, et al. EPA and DHA as markers of nutraceutical treatment response in major depressive disorder. Eur J Nutr. 2019 Sept 25.

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