Treating Mental Illnesses with Fish Oils: the Next Frontier
Restoring EPA and DHA levels in the brain can help to alleviate the symptoms of many mental illnesses and perhaps even cure them altogether. Although considerably more research is needed before specific EPA and DHA dosage recommendations can be made, several studies’ successful outcomes indicate that fish oil supplementation may indeed be the “next frontier.”
There is little doubt that EPA and DHA levels in the brain are directly associated with depression. In areas where EFA consumption is high, depression is usually low. EFA deficiency states (postpartum period and alcoholism, for example) also frequently coincide with times of depression.
The most avid proponent of fish oil supplementation in treating mental illness is Dr. Andrew Stoll, director of the Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory at Harvard Medical School-McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. Stoll, who also wrote The Omega-3 Connection, has supervised some of the most influential studies regarding fish oils and depression.
Stoll’s initial double blind, controlled study included 44 individuals who suffered from bipolar affective disorder. Also known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is characterized by alternating phases of severe depression and manic overdrive. Each day, Stoll and his colleagues gave the experimental group ten grams of fish oil ? the equivalent of more than four pounds of fatty fish- while the control group received a placebo (olive oil). After four months, the experimental group showed dramatic improvements: less intense depression, improved sleep quality, and reduced agitation and aggression. In fact, the results were so dramatic that the control group was immediately given the fish oil treatment as well.
Stoll replicated his findings later in another study where thirty bipolar volunteers were given either fourteen fish oil capsules or an olive oil placebo every day for four months. Those taking fish oil with their medications showed fewer symptoms than those only taking their medications. And, in the patients not taking any antidepressants, those who received fish oil were symptom-free for longer than those taking the placebo.
At this point, treating unipolar depression with fish oils is still unchartered waters. Unipolar depression differs from bipolar depression in that it alternates periods of normal moods (rather than mania) with deep depression. However, there is still hope, as fish oils seem to have been effective in treating one individual: a 21-year old male who had suffered from severe unipolar depression for seven years. According to the researchers, “At age 19 years, pharmacotherapy was commenced owing to increasing illness severity, with prominent low self-esteem, insomnia, sadness, inner tension, poor appetite, poor concentration, increasing social phobia, lethargy, pessimistic thoughts, and suicidal thoughts.” The patient had been completed unresponsive to antidepressants, hypnotics, lithium carbonate, and antipsychotic medications. As what was essentially a last resort, the patient agreed to combine fish oil (in the form of ethyl-EPA) to his current medications. The immediate results were nothing short of amazing. Puri et al (2001) reported, “Administration of ethyl-EPA led to a dramatic improvement, including cessation of the previously unremitting severe suicidal ideation, within one month. Symptoms of social phobia also improved dramatically.” And, “Both he and his mother reported how different he had become. He no longer had any suicidal thoughts and was actively making plans for his future studies and career. The patient reported no adverse side effects of the medication.” So there you have it: immediate outstanding results with no side effects. Not only does this case pave the way for more studies to test the efficacy of fish oils in treating unipolar disorder, but it also shows that fish oil might even be the closest thing to a quick fix that you’ll ever see! Sure beats your “24-Hour Miracle Diet,” doesn’t it?