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Omega-3 Reduces Depression in Elderly Women


Elderly women showed a significant reduction in depression and an improvement in quality of life after taking omega-3 supplements for two months, according to a new study from Italy. The study appeared in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging.

Omega-3 may be an effective depression fighter

Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids, which are found primarily in certain fish, algae, and krill, may reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce inflammation, and lower the risk of cancer and arthritis. They are also present in high concentrations in the brain and appear to play a significant role in brain memory and performance.

Numerous previous studies have suggested omega-3 fatty acids may reduce symptoms of depression. In this new double-blind study, which was conducted by researchers from the University of Pavia, placebo or omega-3 supplements containing 1.67 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 0.83 grams of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were randomly given to administered to 46 depressed elderly women living in a nursing home.

The intervention lasted for two months. Based on the Geriatric Depression Scale, women who took omega-3 supplements had a significant reduction in depression scores. This decline corresponded to an increase in their levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their red blood cells.

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When the study participants were questioned about their quality of life, an improvement was noted here as well. According to the study’s authors, “This [qualify of life] observation has never been achieved before and it appears of great value from the clinical point of view, due to the importance of these aspects in the elderly population.”

According to Harry Rice, PhD, vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s, the findings of the study are “clinically significant in that long-chain omega-3 intake improved quality of life while decreasing the severity of depression in elderly females not taking any antidepressant medication.”

Rice pointed out that the study’s results could not lead to a conclusion that depression is a result of a decline in the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids caused by too much intake of omega-6.

However, the authors did conclude that omega-3 supplements can reduce depression symptoms and improve quality of life among elderly women. No relevant side effects, not even gastrointestinal effects as seen in previous studies, were reported in these participants.

Rondanelli M et al. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging 2011; 15(1): 37-44; doi: 10.1007/s12603-010-0321-5