A new report published by researchers at the University of Bournemouth casts serious doubt on claims that omega-3 fatty acid supplements are an effective treatment for clinical depression.

The study took 26 randomised controlled trials consisting of 1500 adults. Each adult in the study suffered from clinical depression. Some participants were given omega-3 whilst others were given a ‘sugar pill’ placebo.

Those given omega-3 reported only a negligible reduction in their depression. The researchers deemed these changes ‘too small to count’.

The researchers feel the evidence supporting omega-3’s ability to treat depression is tentative at best.

Katherine Appleton, lead author of the report said: “A number of other reviews investigating the impact of omega-3 fatty acids on depression and depressive disorders have also been conducted, and all of these also find discrepancies between studies, and inconsistencies in findings, and essentially find it difficult to draw convincing conclusions. All reviews also conclude with the need for further evidence.”

However, the research reveals a minority of patients did see a sizable improvement in symptoms of depression following omega-3 consumption. However, clinic trials seek out the average effects of the treatment. Omega-3 treatment may still be valid if scientists can figure out why some patients benefit from its use and why others do not. Doctors could then recommend omega-3 treatment to those patients who are likely to benefit from its use. This is known as a ‘personalised approach’ to medication.

Dr. Elizabeth Sublette of Columbia University in New York said: “One of the problems with understanding results from clinical trials in general is that they are looking for an average effect, while many experts agree that the ideal approach would be to figure out which subsets of depressed patients could benefit from particular treatments, an approach the (National Institutes of Health) has called personalized medicine.”

“Omega-3 remains one potential treatment that may be worth trying, and I would encourage both doctors and patients to keep an open mind about this topic until more evidence of higher quality can be obtained” she concluded.

Researchers also note that the current study does not apply to consuming omega-3 via eating fish since the study solely involved omega-3 capsules.

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