Older adults who follow diets high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3 fatty acids have higher levels of proinflammatory cytokines — especially when they have coexisting symptoms of depression.

It’s important because depression is linked to the development of heart disease — a relationship that appears to be due to increased levels of proinflammatory cytokines (eg, interleukins and tumor necrosis factor alpha).

Researchers at Ohio State University in Columbus took blood samples from 43 older adults. They found that depressive symptoms and higher levels of omega-6 vs omega-3 fatty acids worked together to enhance these proinflammatory cytokines. The combined effect was greater than either depression or the omega-6 to -3 ratio contributed alone.

The bottom line?
According to Dr. Kiecolt-Glaser in a Medscape article, when people are stressed and depressed, their diets are poorer because they tend not to eat more fruits and vegetables. “Any way that people get more omega-3 and less omega-6 is probably good.”

Other researchers have studied omega-3 fatty acids and depression, as summarized here. Another study looked at anatomical changes in the brain in relation to emotional arousal and dietary levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

There’s no consensus yet. More research is need on the complex relationship between depression and diet, their influence on inflammatory factors, and any resulting impact on heart disease.

4/27/07 16:35 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.