Omega-3 fatty acids and mood disorders: How omega-3s can help fight depression

Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important fats that have powerful benefits that support various bodily functions. These fats are lauded for their ability to significantly boost heart health — particularly as fish oil supplements. According to the American Heart Association, healthy adults are recommended to eat at least two servings of fish per week, with fatty fish high in Omega-3s like salmon and tuna being priority foods. However, fish oil supplements are found to share similar benefits for heart health, cancer and fatty liver disease. Now, new evidence suggests that Omega-3 oils can have a beneficial effect on human cognition and mood.

Depression and omega-3s

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 17.3 million American adults have had at least one major depressive episode. Experts claim that certain types of omega-3 fatty acids— particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) — have the best potential to help people with mood disorders. The brain needs omega-3 fatty acids to function properly. Those who do not have enough EPA and DHA in their diets could be at higher risk of depression. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that supplementation of EPA can help reduce symptoms of depression among patients who do not respond to contemporary antidepressant treatments. (Related: Treat depression with omega-3 fatty acids.)

“Despite significant progress in neuroscience over the past two decades, depression is difficult to treat,” said lead author Francois Lesperance. “Many of these treatments have not been adequately evaluated. That is why it was important to assess the efficacy of Omega-3, one of the most popular alternative approaches.”


In this randomized, double-blind study, the researchers recruited 432 participants with major unipolar disorder to undergo an experiment. Over the course of eight weeks, half of the participants involved took three capsules of OM3 Emotional Balance, a fish oil supplement with high doses of EPA, each day. The researchers gave another group three identical placebo capsules filled with sunflower oil to act as the control.

From the results, the researchers found that EPA supplementation helped reduce depressive symptoms in patients experiencing major depressive episodes. However, there was a clearer benefit for supplementation among patients without comorbid anxiety disorders.

In a different study, published in the journal CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics, researchers from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev analyzed three studies that used EPA as a treatment for three different types of depression: major depression in children, bipolar depression and major depression in adults. They observed that most of the participants that took EPA across all types exhibited significant improvement and benefited from the EPA compared to those who took a placebo.

As a whole, most of the research done looks positive for the use of omega-3s and fish oil supplements to treat and manage depression.

Getting more omega-3s

Other than fish oil supplements, the best way to get more omega-3s is by adding certain food to your diet. Below you can find a few foods that are very high in omega-3.

  1. Chia seeds (5,060 mg per serving). Chia seeds are jampacked with antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients that can bring plenty of important benefits for both the body and brain. A one-ounce serving of these seeds can provide 5 grams of protein alongside all eight essential amino acids.
  2. Mackerel (4,107 mg per serving). Mackerel are small, fatty fish that are often served smoked and eaten as whole fillets. Just 3.5 ounces of these nutritious fish can give you 200 percent of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for vitamin D and 100 percent for selenium.

All in all, adding more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet can help give your mood a quick boost and help you relieve symptoms of depression. Learn more about fish oil supplements and their benefits at

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