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OMEGA-3 Essential Fatty Acid

Updated: May 1, 2023

Can it Help Depression?

How often do we hear someone say, “I’m depressed”? Are we really depressed? Maybe. According to the CDC, in 2008 there were approximately 8.4-10 percent of Americans reporting that they were depressed (Ross, n.d.). Fast forward to 2017 where the National Institutes of Mental Health (2018) reported an estimated 17.3 million adults, or 7.1%, adults in the United States as having suffered a major depressive episode.


Depression falls under the general umbrella of an Affective Disorder. Pizzorno, Murry, and Joiner-Bey (2016) state that it involves the following conditions, or symptoms:

  • Poor appetite with weight loss, or increased appetite with weight gain

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleep)

  • Overly active or non-activity

  • No interest in regular activities, including decrease in sex drive

  • No energy and feelings of fatigue

  • Feelings of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt

  • Problems focusing or inability to think

  • Recurrent thoughts of suicide

Now wait a minute, I can label myself with some of these, but I am not depressed. Likewise, you may feel that this description fits you as well. But a person must encounter five or more of these for at least one month to meet the definition of “clinical depression,” or four symptoms to conclude that depression is “probable” (Pizzorno et al., 2016).


Just as there are many expressions of depression, there are also several factors that contribute to depression. The main drivers to depression are hormonal factors (e.g. thyroid issues, stress), environmental toxins (heavy metals, cleaning materials), lifestyle (smoking, caffeine) and nutritional deficiencies or excess.

“Any single nutrient deficiency can alter brain function and lead to depression or anxiety” (Pizzorno et al., 2016)

Deficiencies in the B vitamins, folic acid, vitamin C, iron, zinc, selenium, chromium, essential fatty acids and magnesium could possibly lead to depression. Pick one, any one….

Since they are the most effective nutritional therapy for depression (Mahon & Raymond, 2017), let’s discuss fish oil supplements.


Who are they? I’m glad you asked.

Fats are not always bad. In fact, they have many good health benefits; you just have to know which ones are beneficial. Fats are divided into three groups: unsaturated fats, saturated fats, and trans fats. Omega-3 fats are a type of unsaturated fats which are critical in overall brain health. Eicosapentaenoic acid, better known as EPA, and Docosahexaenoic acid also known as DHA, are important omega-3 fats in the form of fish oil, found in oily fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna. Other sources include halibut, herring, mackerel, and trout. Essential fatty acids (EFA) are the structural components in your brain cells. In fact, DHA makes up much of the mass of brain tissue (Mahon & Raymond, 2017). So without these omega-3 fatty acids, your brain understandably could begin to derail.

Real food is always best, and supplements cannot replace food, only add to them.

But Supplements are still good for you.

First, know that fresh fish has the highest levels of EPA and DHA. But maybe you don’t eat fish. Or don’t get enough fish in your diet. Fish oil supplements contain EPA and DHA, too. Studies show that for depression, the most effective therapeutic dosage of omega-3 fatty acids are 60% EPA and 40% DHA, with 200-2200 mg/day of EPA (Mahon & Raymond, 2017). Braun and Cohen (2015) concur with their recommendation of 1g/day (1000mg) EPA, or a combined dose EPA/DHA with at least 60% EPA.

Many research studies illustrate the positive effect of fish oil supplementation on depression. For example, Dang et al.(2018) discussed an association between inflammation and depression and how fish oil supplementation serves as both an anti-inflammatory AND an antidepressant agent. McNamara et al., (2016) studied the link between omega-3 deficiency and depression in adolescents and how supplementing with fish oil decreased their symptoms of major depression. Lastly, clinical trials in children with depression show a notable positive response from EPA/DHA supplementation (Mahon & Raymond, 2017).

Fish oil supplementation is by no means a cure-all for depression. They are, however, reliable sources proven to prevent, treat, and improve this condition. Below are some tips concerning fish oil supplementation (Mahon, & Raymond, 2017).

Omega-3 from supplements

  • Therapeutic amounts of EPA and DHA start at 400mg of each.

  • Read your supplement label; make sure it states that the fat is free of heavy metals.

  • Supplementation may prove the better option in areas of heavy metal (e.g. mercury) contamination (Braun & Cohen, 2015).

  • Best quality supplements have the “NSF” seal (Regalla, n.d.).

  • Top brands include brand such as Nordic Naturals and Pure Encapsulations (Regalla, n.d.).

What to watch out for…

  • If you have a bleeding disorder, only take fish oil supplements under physician supervision (Braun & Cohen, 2015).

  • Possible mild gastrointestinal discomfort, loose bowels, bad breath, fishy odor of skin and urine with supplementation.

Beneficial while:

Pregnant, while taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, and while on low-dose pravastatin (a statin drug prescribed for high cholesterol treatment). (Braun & Cohen, 2015).

Be depression-free! Take your OMEGA-3!

Here’s to your brain health.


Braun, L., & Cohen, M. (2015). Herbs & Natural Supplements: An evidence-based guide (Vol 2) (4th ed). Elsevier Australia: Elsevier.

Dang, R., Zhou, X., Tang, M., Xu, P., Gong, X., Liu, Y….Jiang, P. (2017, January 5). Fish oil supplementation attenuates neuroinflammation and alleviates depressive-like behavior in rats submitted to repeated lipopolysaccharide. European Journal of Nutrition, 57, 893-906.

Mahan, L. & Raymond, J. (2017). Krause’s Food & the Nutrition Care Process (14th ed). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.

McNamara, R. K., Jandacek, R., Rider, T., Tso, P., Chu, W., Weber, W. A….DelBello, M. P. (2016). Effects of fish oil supplementation on prefrontal metabolite concentrations in adolescents with major depressive disorder. Nutritional Neuroscience 19(4), 145-155.

DOI 10.1179/1476830514Y.0000000135

National Institutes of Mental Health. (2018).

Pizzorno, J. E., Murray, M. T., & Joiner-Bey, H. (2016). The Clinician’s Handbook of Natural Medicine (3rd ed). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.

Regalla, S. (n.d.). Supplementation: Where to Start [PDF document]. Canvas@MUIH

Ross, K. (n.d.). Anxiety and Depression [Video, PDF document]. Canvas@MUIH


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