Here's the study I've been looking for. There are plenty of studies showing the effectiveness of antidepressant medications. And there are plenty of studies showing the effectiveness of fish oil in treating depression. But no one had compared the two. Until now.
In Iran, researchers compared the separate relative effectiveness of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), one of the chemicals commonly referred to as fish oil, and fluoxetine (Prozac). What they found was that EPA was equally as effective as fluoxetine, in an 8 week trial, in reducing symptoms of depression. The most superior outcome was found in subjects who received both EPA and fluoxetine.
If you're wanting to try this at home, as always, discuss this with your physician. The risk of using fish oil in conjunction with antidepressants is almost always outweighed by the potential benefits--however, it is not advised that you discontinue any prescription medications you are on without consulting with the prescribing party.
A word about EPA. There is a lot of confusion about what it means to use fish oil. Most products available in the grocery store that are labeled as containing "omega-3 fatty acids" actually contain ALA, a great omega-3 but not the one that has been associated with improved mental health. If you're using omega-3 eggs, or vegan (marine algae-based) omega-3's, you're getting DHA, not EPA. That primarily comes from fish. Even though you will read that there are conversions to EPA from both ALA and DHA, the efficiency of these conversions is great and likely not enough to achieve results such as were seen in this study.
If your diet is high in pro-inflammatory oils (those "S" and "C" oils you see me routinely discuss in this blog), it will be harder to get effects described in this study. You're going to need to tweak your diet in order to get the most bang for your buck. And, realistically, that means you're going to have to get rid of most processed foods and salad dressings.
But, for those individuals motivated to make these changes, the results can be profound. I see it routinely in my private counseling. It is certainly my first recommended item of action when someone is trying to reduce the number of medications they are on.
Finally, for physicians who prescribe antidepressants, this study suggests that if you do so without strong nutritional guidance as well, you're not as helpful to your patients as you have the potential to be. It's not just about pills. Your patients did not become depressed because they were antidepressant-deficient!
Jazayeri S, Tehrani-Doost M, Keshavarz SA, Hosseini M, Djazayery A, Amini H, Jalali M, Peet M. Comparison of therapeutic effects of omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid and fluoxetine, separately and in combination, in major depressive disorder. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2008 Mar;42(3):192-8.
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