Fish oil may increase effectiveness of antidepressants

April 29, 2016 Providence Health Team

A new study offers hope for those who suffer from depression but don’t respond well to medication. Researchers at the University of Melbourne found that omega-3 fish oil may boost the effectiveness of antidepressants.

The research team, led by Dr. Jerome Sarris, reviewed the findings of eight clinical trials conducted worldwide. After comparing results from patients who took a placebo with an antidepressant versus those who took omega-3 fish oil with their antidepressant, the team found a statistically significant effect for the omega-3 group.

The benefits of omega-3 fish oil

Much has been written in recent years about the positive effects of omega-3 fish oil on the heart. And previous studies have suggested that omega-3 fish oil might improve the moods of people suffering from bipolar depression and childhood depression. However, the Melbourne study may be the first to link the so-called "wonder drug" to greater effectiveness of antidepressants.

An estimated 15.7 million adults in the U.S. suffer from major depression. Dr. Sarris said some doctors may be reluctant to recommend fish oil in combination with an antidepressant because there’s been a lack of scientific evidence on the effectiveness of the practice. The researchers said they found no major safety concerns in their study, but that people should talk with their health care provider before deciding whether to take a fish oil supplement.

They also noted that supplements can vary in quality and suggested that patients ask their provider about how to find the right brand.

FDA tips about supplements

Although omega-3 fish oil may have health benefits, it also can carry risks, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t have the authority to review dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed. But it offers the following advice for making informed decisions about all supplements.

How can you find more information about a specific product?

Dietary supplement labels must include the name and location of the manufacturer or distributor. If you want to know more about the product, check with either of those sources about information:

  • To support product claims
  • On the safety and effectiveness of the ingredients in the product

How can you be a smart supplement shopper?

  • When researching supplements on the Internet, use non-commercial sites such as the National Institutes of Health, the FDA or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, rather than doing blind searches.
  • Watch for questionable statements such as "works better than [a prescription drug]," "totally safe" or "has no side effects."
  • Be aware that the term “natural” doesn't always mean safe.

If you have questions about the omega-3 fish oil study, talk to your health care provider. You can find a Providence provider here.

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