How Effective is Fish Oil for Depression?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Mackerel is often used as the source for fish oil tablets.
Mackerel is often used as the source for fish oil tablets.

There is no consensus among the medical community as to if fish oil for depression might be beneficial. Limited studies suggest a potential benefit for some people who have clinical depression, and for those with bipolar disorder. This doesn’t mean that people should automatically throw out their meds and head to the health food store for fish oil, a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. What has been suggested so far by the small amount of research on this topic is that using fish oil for depression or bipolar may make the most sense in combination with traditional therapies, and that it might be unsafe on several levels to try to replicating the studies that have, thus far, evaluated the mental health benefits of fish oil.

Fish oil may be beneficial for depression, although there is no firm consensus.
Fish oil may be beneficial for depression, although there is no firm consensus.

It’s useful to consider some of the studies that have been performed. A number of them examined the level of depression in people and administered only fish oil as treatment. Results suggested that extremely high levels of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were of some benefit to a percentage of the study participants. Another clinical research attempt evaluated extremely high administration of EPA and DHA in participants with bipolar disorder, finding that many of the study participants reported greater freedom from depression and more mood stability. Other small research attempts appear to support these studies, suggesting there is a benefit to fish oil for people with depression or mood disorders.

There are limited studies on whether fish oil is beneficial to people with depression and bipolar disorder.
There are limited studies on whether fish oil is beneficial to people with depression and bipolar disorder.

Exactly how far the benefits of fish oil stretches has not been evaluated in any long-term studies. It is not recommended as an alternative to traditional treatment because there is simply not enough information known about its long term use and benefits. One thing that is known is that taking too much fish oil can lead to toxic levels of vitamin A, which is very dangerous. Generally, amounts given in studies exceeded normal amounts that would be recommended daily, sometimes by a great deal, leading to side effects like nausea. It isn’t clear that fish oil for depression works in lower amounts or what guidelines might be followed for its use if it was taken in higher amounts.

People with depression who take fish oil supplements still need to remain on any prescribed medications.
People with depression who take fish oil supplements still need to remain on any prescribed medications.

While there is no way of proving that fish oil for depression or bipolar disorder are the most appropriate treatment, many mental health experts now recommend patients with these conditions try taking fish oil, while remaining on traditional medicines, or adding more oily fish to their diet. Vegetarians can find vegetarian sources of both DHA and EPA, and these could be used to augment traditional treatments. In the absence of a preponderance of research, probably the only person who can speak to the personal effectiveness of fish oil for depression, is the person with depression or a mood disorder who tries this treatment.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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    • Mackerel is often used as the source for fish oil tablets.
      Mackerel is often used as the source for fish oil tablets.
    • Fish oil may be beneficial for depression, although there is no firm consensus.
      Fish oil may be beneficial for depression, although there is no firm consensus.
    • There are limited studies on whether fish oil is beneficial to people with depression and bipolar disorder.
      There are limited studies on whether fish oil is beneficial to people with depression and bipolar disorder.
    • People with depression who take fish oil supplements still need to remain on any prescribed medications.
      People with depression who take fish oil supplements still need to remain on any prescribed medications.
    • Children who take fish oil on a daily basis may be less at risk for hyperactivity and other brain disorders.
      Children who take fish oil on a daily basis may be less at risk for hyperactivity and other brain disorders.
    • Fish oil supplements are rich in healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, commonly called DHA.
      Fish oil supplements are rich in healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, commonly called DHA.