Omega-3 Alleviates Depression from Bipolar Disorder
December 15, 2005—An omega-3 fatty acid from fish oil, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), may help alleviate depression in people with bipolar disorder, reports the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (2005;66:726–9).
Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic-depressive illness, is characterized by alternating periods of abnormally elevated mood (mania) and depressive episodes, with periods of normal mood in between. People with bipolar disorder experience the ups and downs of life more intensely than do people without the illness. During a manic period, a person with bipolar disorder may experience a type of euphoria, coupled with greatly enhanced energy and an overall increased ability to function. This euphoria may be result in poor judgment and risky behaviors such as spending excessive amounts of money. Depressive episodes may manifest as sadness, anxiety, decreased energy, and insomnia. These drastic swings in mood often interfere with work, relationships, or school.
The cause of bipolar disorder is not known; however, the illness does tend to run in families. A combination of medication and psychotherapy is the mainstay of treatment. Mood-stabilizing medications, such as lithium (Eskalith) and valproate (Depakote), may be prescribed to moderate the intensity of the mood swings. While these medications may be beneficial for many people with the illness, they are also associated with numerous side effects including kidney problems (lithium) and liver failure and anemia (valproate). Antidepressant medications are used in addition to mood-stabilizing drugs for some people whose predominant symptom is depression. However, because these medications carry the risk of inducing episodes of mania, safer alternatives are needed.
EPA plays a role in nerve signal transmission, and as such, may have an effect on mood. Some studies have found that depressed people are deficient in EPA and that taking EPA in combination with antidepressant medications may be helpful for people suffering from depression.
The new study assessed the effect of EPA supplementation on depression in 12 people with bipolar disorder. All of the people were given 2 grams of EPA per day. The severity of depression was measured using the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression at the beginning of the study and at monthly intervals thereafter, for up to six months. The people remained on steady dosages of their regular medications during the study.
Ten people completed at least one month of the trial. Of these, eight experienced a 50% or greater reduction in depression after one month of treatment. Another person had a 50% reduction after two months, and the remaining person had a 26% reduction. There were no reports of adverse effects related to treatment with EPA, including episodes of mania.
The results of this preliminary study suggest that EPA may be beneficial to people with bipolar disorder suffering from depression that is not responsive to standard therapy.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.
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