The Depression-Fighting Dietary Fats

A Supplement to Help with Mood Issues

Temporary feelings of depression are pretty normal, but if they persist you might need to do something about it. Here's a possible solution.

What do you think is the leading cause of disability worldwide? Back pain? Maybe cancer or heart disease? Nope. The leading cause of disability is depression, and the U.S. is the most depressed country in the world statistically.

There are plenty of treatments for depression, the most common being cognitive therapy (sitting down with a therapist) and prescription drugs. Hormone therapy also has some beneficial effects, as does taking care of nutritional deficiencies. But one-third of patients don't respond to any therapy, and for those that do, the remission rates are downright depressing.

Clearly, medicine needs to look elsewhere for answers, and there's one clue that's caught the attention of researchers: depression is a lot less common in countries where people eat a lot of fish.

The Research

The anti-depressive properties of fish have to do with its rich (at least in certain species) complement of omega-3 fatty acids (Buy at Amazon), specifically DHA and EPA.

The role of fatty acids in treating depression isn't well known, which is odd since one of the first studies to look at the connection between fish oil and mental disorders was completed in 1999. In it, researchers gave fish oil to 30 manic depressives and 64% of them reported marked improvement, as compared to 19% on placebo.

Since then, more than 30 clinical trials have been undertaken, most showing that fish oil helps treat depression. A number of them did, however, use fish oil as an add-on for people who were already taking prescription antidepressants with limited or no benefit. Somehow, the fish oil helped the antidepressants do what they otherwise couldn't.

But there have been several studies where fish oil worked fine just on its own, showing beneficial effects in treating ordinary depression, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, postpartum depression, and attention deficit disorder. A meta-analysis of 10 different trials found that fish oil even had a significant effect on people with bipolar disorder where it smoothed out the characteristic mood swings.

Then there's the observational evidence. It’s possible that omega-3 fatty acids, or the lack thereof, might help explain why the U.S. rate of depression is rising.

The fear-mongering of saturated fats and cholesterol has caused Americans to eat less red meat and eggs, which are normally pretty good sources of omega-3s. They've also been switching to using oils like corn, soybean, and sunflower, which are all anemic when it comes to omega-3s.

Of course, you can't rule out modern living regarding the increasing rate of depression, i.e., social strife, politics, the economy, etc.

How Does Fish Oil Help with Depression?

There are at least three ways omega-3 fatty acids help with cognitive disorders. The first has to do with the anti-inflammatory effect omega-3s have on neural cells, which has a direct effect on depression.

A second mechanism involves cell permeability. The cell membranes themselves are partly made up of omega-3s, so adding more omega-3s to the mix, courtesy of fish or fish oil supplements makes the cell membrane more permeable. This increased permeability allows serotonin – the "feel good" chemical – to more easily pass through the membranes.

The third mechanism is a little more complicated, but it involves indirect membrane modification via signaling proteins.

How Much Fish Oil Works?

The doses of fish oils used in clinical studies range from 0.5 grams a day up to 10 grams a day, but the high end of that range is an outlier, used in a study of bipolar patients for whom the researchers figured they had to pull out the big guns.

One randomized study tried to determine whether 1 gram a day, 2, or 4 worked the best and they settled on 4. Another compared those same amounts and found that 1 gram a day worked best. Most, however, agreed that at least a couple of grams a day works best in combating depression.

Are There Any Side Effects of Fish Oil?

Fish oils have no known serious side effects, although caution should be used in people taking blood thinners or about to undergo surgery, as omega-3 fatty acids are natural anticoagulants.

In contrast, nearly all depression drugs have significant side effects, from minor things like nausea, constipation, and fatigue to more serious things like loss of sexual desire, weight gain, and erectile dysfunction.

The Right Kind of Fish Oil

If you try fish oil, choose one that uses re-esterified triglycerides, is purified by molecular distillation, and is self-emulsifying. A three-capsule serving of Flameout (Buy at Amazon) fish oil contains 4200 mg of the triglyceride form, including two full grams of DHA (the powerhouse behind the DHA/EPA duo) and 400mg of EPA.

Flameout Buy-on-Amazon

Sometimes, temporary depression is perfectly normal. However, depression that has nonspecific underpinnings or that won't let up might need to be treated, and using fish oil in an attempt to ameliorate it seems like a sane, low-risk approach that's pretty easy to put into action. Of course, consult your doctor.


  1. Dennis Cladis, "Fatty Acid Profiles of Commercially Available FinFish in the United States," Lipids, 2014 Oct;49(10):1005-18.
  2. Julie Corliss, "Finding omega-3 fats in fish: Farmed versus wild," Harvard Health Publishing, December 23, 2015.
  3. Gertsik, et al. "Omega-3 Fatty Acid Augmentation of Citalopram Treatment for Patients With Major Depressive Disorder," Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, February 2012, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp. 61–64.
  4. David Mischoulon, MD, PhD, "Omega-3 fatty acids for mood disorders," Harvard Health Publishing, August 03, 2018.
  5. Mansoor Burhani and Mark Rasenick, "Fish oil and depression: The skinny on fats," J Integr Neurosci, 2017, 16(Supp 1): S115-124.