Study Title:

Fish Oil Helps Menopausal Depression

Study Abstract

Background: Psychological distress (PD) and depressive symptoms are commonly observed during menopausal transition. Studies suggest that omega-3 (n–3) fatty acids may help alleviate depression.

Objective: The objective was to compare enriched ethyl-eicosapentaenoic acid (E-EPA) supplementation with placebo for the treatment of PD and depressive symptoms in middle-aged women.

Design: Women with moderate-to-severe PD (n = 120) were randomly assigned to receive 1.05 g E-EPA/d plus 0.15 g ethyl-docosahexaenoic acid/d (n = 59) or placebo (n = 61) for 8 wk. The main outcomes were 8-wk changes in PD scores [Psychological General Well-Being Schedule (PGWB)] and depressive scales [20-item Hopkins Symptom Checklist Depression Scale (HSCL-D-20) and the 21-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D-21)].

Results: At baseline, women with PD were mildly to moderately depressed, and 24% met the major depressive episode (MDE) criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition. After 8 wk, outcomes improved in both groups, but no significant differences were noted between them. Stratification analyses for MDE diagnosis at baseline indicated that differences in adjusted 8-wk changes between the E-EPA group without MDE (n = 46) and the placebo group (n = 45) were 8.0 (95% CI: 0.6, 15.3; P = 0.034) for the PGWB, –0.2 (95% CI: –0.01, –0.4; P = 0.040) for the HSCL-D-20, and –2.7 (95% CI: –0.3, –5.1; P = 0.030) for the HAM-D-21. Differences in adjusted 8-wk changes between the E-EPA group with MDE (n = 13) and the placebo group (n = 16) were not significant.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first trial of n–3 supplementation in the treatment of PD and depressive symptoms in middle-aged women. In women with PD without MDE at baseline, the 8-wk changes in PD and depressive scales improved significantly more with E-EPA than with placebo.

From press release:

Omega-3 fatty acids ease psychological distress and depressive symptoms often suffered by menopausal and perimenopausal women, according to researchers at Université Laval's Faculty of Medicine.

Their study, published in the February issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, presents the first evidence that omega-3 supplements are effective for treating common menopause-related mental health problems.

Dr. Michel Lucas and colleagues recruited 120 women age 40 to 55 and divided them into two groups. Women in the first group took three gel capsules containing a total of one gram of EPA, an omega-3 fatty acid of marine origin, every day for eight weeks. Those in the second group followed the same protocol, but took gel capsules containing sunflower oil without EPA.

Test results before and after the eight-week period indicate that omega-3s significantly improved the condition of women suffering symptoms of psychological distress and mild depression. "The differences we observed between the two groups are noteworthy," commented Dr Lucas, "especially considering that omega-3s have very few side effects and are beneficial to cardiovascular health." However, no positive effect was observed among a small group of women with more severe depressive symptoms.

Women with hot flashes also noted that their condition improved after consuming omega-3s. At baseline, the number of daily hot flashes was 2.8 and dropped by an average of 1.6 in the group taking omega-3s and by 0.5 in the control group. The change that can be attributed to the use of omega-3s, i.e. a decrease of 1.1 hot flashes per day, is equivalent to results obtained with hormone therapy and antidepressants. Details of these results were published in the November 20, 2008 online edition of the journal Menopause.

Many women suffer from depressive symptoms during menopause and perimenopause. Some take antidepressants for relief even though their effectiveness is controversial. Mistrust of hormone therapy and antidepressants leads certain women to turn to alternative methods whose effectiveness has not yet been scientifically demonstrated. This study by Université Laval researchers corrects this situation with regard to marine-sourced omega-3s.

Study Information

Michel Lucas, Geneviève Asselin, Chantal Mérette, Marie-Josée Poulin and Sylvie Dodin.
Ethyl-eicosapentaenoic acid for the treatment of psychological distress and depressive symptoms in middle-aged women: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial
Am J Clin Nutr
2009 February
Lucie and André Chagnon Chair for the Teaching of an Integrated Approach in Prevention, Laval University, Saint-François d'Assise Hospital (CHUQ), Quebec, Canada.

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