This may be the largest study of its kind, according to the authors.

Researchers at the Université de Montréal, in Quebec, studied the short-term effect of omega-3 supplementation in reducing depressive symptoms in patients experiencing a major depressive episode.

First, the details.

  • 432 patients with a major depressive episode based on mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview criteria lasting at least 4 weeks, including 40% who were taking antidepressants, were randomly assigned to a treatment group for 8 weeks.
    • 1,050 mg/day of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 150 mg/day of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
    • Matched sunflower oil placebo (2% fish oil)
  • Self-report Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology (IDS-SR30) and the clinician-rated Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) were used to assess outcomes.
  • Neither the patients nor researchers knew the treatment given — double blind.

And, the results.

  • There was no significant difference in response by the groups, although there was a “trend” toward improvement.
  • For patients whose condition did not include anxiety disorders, omega-3 supplementation was superior to placebo.

The bottom line?

The authors concluded, “There was only a trend toward superiority of omega-3 supplementation over placebo in reducing depressive symptoms. However, there was a clear benefit of omega-3 supplementation among patients with major depressive episodes without comorbid anxiety disorders.”

“Despite the availability of several newer antidepressants over the last 20 years,” say the authors, “a substantial proportion of patients experiencing [a major depressive episode] do not respond sufficiently to antidepressant treatment, are unable to tolerate antidepressants in order to obtain or maintain a clinical response, or refuse to take antidepressants despite substantial psychological suffering and disability.”

These results combined with its good safety profile suggest that omega-3 is an option for treatment — particularly for patients whose condition doesn’t include anxiety disorders.

6/25/10 18:15 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, a complementary and alternative medicine website.