Omega-3s and depression

Posted by on Nov 12, 2010 in depression | 4 comments

According to recent estimates, more than 20% of women undergoing menopause have major depressive disorder. In fact, mood disorders and depression affect a disproportionate amount of women in the peri- and postmenopausal stages compared to women in pre-menopause. Moreover, these mood disorders tend to occur in conjunction with hot flashes.

While researchers have yet to discover the cause of the depression/mood surge during menopause, they continue to explore therapeutic strategies that might help to take the edge off. And surprisingly, numerous studies actually point to the value of omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — for alleviating depression. Besides wellbeing, one of the reasons this is so important is that research has linked depression with other serious conditions including heart disease and stroke. The one thing that all these conditions have in common is that they are believed to be caused, at least in part, by an inflammatory response by the body. One particular action of omega-3 fatty acids is that they have been shown to lower inflammation, which makes them potentially useful in treating disease.

So, can omega-3s help stave off depression in menopausal women? In a very small study published in the online edition of Menopause, peri- or postmenopausal taking daily omega-3 fatty acids  (Lovaza, 2 g daily) for 8 weeks had significant declines in depression scores, number of daily hot flashes and hot flash interference scores.  During the course of the study, 70% of women responded, and those whose depressive symptoms declined also experienced declines in hot flashes, indicating both a connection between the two and a possible role for omega-3s in menopause.

However, this study was very small, enrolling only 20 women and more evidence is needed with larger numbers of women before omega-3s can be recommended as a treatment for mood and hot flashes during menopause. Moreover, it’s essential to note that a thorough analysis of scientifically sound studies has recently pointed to the EPA component as driving as much as a 56% reduction in depressive symptoms, that is, if the supplements used contain more than 50% of standardized EPA or pure EPA. Therefore, when it comes to fish oils, the ratio of EPA to DHA may play an important role.

I’m excited because this study brings us another step closer towards demonstrating that menopausal symptoms can indeed, be effectively alleviated without hormonal therapy.


  1. 11-12-2010

    Morning Liz,
    Great post! I am very much a proponent of Omega-3s, which have also helped lower my cholesterol. I’ve read about Lovaza and wondered about its effectiveness. This news is especially promising for women experiencing menopausal symptoms brought on by chemotherapy.

    Thank you,

    • 11-12-2010

      Great point Jody – hadn’t considered that population directly!

  2. 11-12-2010

    Great info, Liz! Do you know how much DHA is in 2 grams of Lovaza? Omega 3 has been a big part of my “prescription” for clients over the years, but mostly DHA. Those with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome)are especially vulnerable to DHA deficiencies and some see improvements in brain fog, anxiety, and stress response when they supplement with 500 mg or more of DHA. All very interesting!

    • 11-12-2010

      Hi Danielle: According to the PI, Lovaza contains 465 mg EPA and 375 mg DHA. Note that it is available by prescription only.

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