Omega-3 dietary supplements do not help improve levels of depression in coronary heart disease (CHD) patients who are augmenting their antidepressant drug therapy with an omega-3 supplement, according to a study that will be published in the October 21 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The findings contradict two previous studies which indicated that omega-3 supplements substantially augmented the efficacy of standard antidepressant drugs.
In the current JAMA study, researchers tracked 122 CHD patients who were also suffering from major depression and who received an omega-3 supplement in addition to the sertraline antidepressant drug they were already taking. The study measured progress between May 2005 and December 2008 using scores on the Beck Depression Inventory and the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. No significant improvement was noted in those taking the omega-3 supplement as compared to those taking a placebo.
“Treatment of patients with CHD and major depression with sertraline and omega-3 fatty acids did not result in superior depression outcomes at 10 weeks, compared with sertraline and placebo,” researchers wrote.
Researchers also concluded that higher doses of omega-3 or a different ratio of EPA to DHA could lead to more favorable outcomes, though no such studies have been conducted. Supplement industry advocates also note that this study only applies to a very narrow percentage of the population that is affected by major depression and CHD. “This is a study on augmenting sertraline, an antidepressant prescription medication, with a nutritional product, omega-3 fatty acids,” said Daniel Fabricant, PhD, who is currently serving as interim executive director and CEO of the Natural Products Association. “This is not a study on nutritionals—it is a drug study. That needs to be accurately reflected in the media.”
While the results of the study do not seem favorable on the surface, numerous other benefits associated with omega-3 supplementation have been documented. “Using dietary supplements containing DHA and EPA may reduce sudden cardiac deaths in high-risk patients, improve depression, and enhance the efficacy of antidepressants as EPA and DHA have been shown to do in other studies,” said Fabricant. “Much remains to be done in terms of research.”
Demand for omega-3 supplements continues to surge in the United States. The combined fish/animal and plant oil categories—which contain omega-3 supplements derived from fish, flax and other sources—grew another 13% in 2008 and generated sales of $992 million, according to Nutrition Business Journal estimates.
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