Will Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA Treat Major Depression?
Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Help Bipolar Disorder?
Certain omega-3s have promise as a natural remedy for some bipolar symptoms. Learn what the research has shown so far.
By Dennis Thompson Jr.
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
Don't Miss This
Sign Up for OurMental Health & Mood DisordersNewsletter
Thanks for signing up!You might also like these other newsletters:
Omega-3 fatty acids have earned a reputation as a wonder nutrient. Research has shown that omega-3s help lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation, cutting your risk of developing heart disease. Other studies have found that omega-3s have some benefit in treating arthritis. Recently, attention has turned to whether the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids extend to the brain and if they can help people with bipolar disorder.
The short answer to that question for now is "maybe." There's early evidence to suggest that omega-3 fatty acids might be able to help ease bipolar symptoms. However, reviews of the current research have concluded that while there is promise in omega-3s as a bipolar disorder treatment, there's not enough evidence to conclude that it is of definite benefit.
Omega-3s and the Brain
Omega-3 fatty acids are needed for good health, but the body doesn't produce them — you must get them through your diet. The omega-3s known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are found primarily in oily fish like salmon, tuna, and halibut, as well as other forms of seafood. Another type of omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), can be found in some nuts and seeds (like flaxseed, hemp seeds, and walnuts) and in vegetable oils like canola, soybean, and olive oils.
Omega-3 fatty acids appear to be important to brain function. Omega-3s are highly concentrated in the brain, particularly DHA and EPA. Infants who don't get enough of these substances from their mothers during pregnancy can develop nerve and vision problems. People with an omega-3 deficiency may also have symptoms that include poor memory and mood swings. Researchers believe omega-3s may play a crucial role in nervous system activity, and some studies have found that people taking omega-3 supplements showed signs of cognitive improvement.
The Potential of Omega-3s for Bipolar Disorder
Doctors believe omega-3 fatty acids are a potential treatment for bipolar disorder because the fish-oil fatty acids, EPA and DHA, can alter brain signal pathways in ways similar to mood stabilizers like lithium and valproate. That makes EPA and DHA potentially the most important omega-3s as far as bipolar disorder is concerned. Postmortem examinations of bipolar patients have found significantly lower DHA concentrations in the prefrontal cortex compared with the general population, and epidemiological surveys have found that people who eat more fish or seafood are less likely to have bipolar disorder.
Studies investigating the effectiveness of omega-3s in treating bipolar disorder have returned mixed results. Several studies found that an omega-3 combination of EPA and DHA produced a statistically significant improvement in patients' bipolar symptoms, particularly depressive symptoms. But results from research investigating the use of EPA alone have been split, with some finding improvement in patients and others detecting no significant relief.
Because of these mixed results, doctors do not currently recommend using omega-3s to treat bipolar disorder, but further research into the matter is recommended and is being pursued. Since omega-3 fatty acids produce few side effects, doctors hope they could be used to supplement and reduce the required dosage of traditional bipolar medications like mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics, which have significant side effects. But they also want to make sure that the omega-3s don't treat one phase of bipolar disorder while provoking the other — in other words, soothing depression while worsening mania.
Video: What Omega 3s Could Do for Bipolar Patients
Bandelettes review: the best anti-chafing bands are also under 20
Study suggests breast cancer treatment could trigger heart disease risk
How to Steer Clear of Cold and Flu Germs This Season
Spring Summer 2015 Accessory Trends
How to Pick the Perfect Blush
Egg-Drop Noodle Soup
How to Act Like Zoey Brooks
Oscars 2008: The parties
How to Use Brake Spring Pliers
How to Make a Water Purifier