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Health Team

Can Fish Help Fight Depression?

Posted December 14, 2007 5:17 p.m. EST
Updated December 14, 2007 9:36 p.m. EST

— Scientists are exploring whether Omega 3 fatty acids – found in fish and popular supplements – can help fight depression.

Omega 3 fatty acids can ease the symptoms of conditions from high blood pressure to Alzheimer's. Researchers are wondering if those compounds also can help out people like Bari Robinson, who suffered from depression for years.

"It's like a feeling of being down all the time – lackluster, no motivation," is how Robinson described depression.

When Robinson turned to doctors for help, they enrolled him in a study to determine if a natural supplment, like Omega 3 fatty acids, could help depression sufferers. While anti-depressants are effective treatments, they might also have side effects.

Omega 3 fatty acids work by lowering inflammation in the body, and inflammation may play a role in deperession.

"We know that inflammation in the body results in the increased synthesis of certain hormones like cortisol, and those have been associated with depression," Dr. David Mischoulon, with Massechusetts General Hospital in Boston, said.

Researchers plan to give special doses of Omega 3 fatty acids to 300 people with depression.

"Perhaps by preventing inflammation, they can also counteract any influences that cause depression," Mischoulon said.

The testing was blinded, so Robinson will not know until the end if he has received the Omega 3 compound or a placebo pill. Either way, he said it is working.

"Now I can wake up in the morning and say, 'Hey, you know, the day is not all that bad,' and I can make it to the next day now," Robinson said.

It will take several years of testing to determine if these compounds can have a major effect on millions of other people suffering major depression.

Fish that are high in Omega 3 fatty acids include mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon. For those not wild about fish, supplements can be found at almost every drug store.