Depressed? Eat fish!

Tucking into a fish dinner of salmon or sardines could improve your mental health says a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Université de Montréal. François Lespérance says eating fatty fish, or taking Omega-3 supplements can actually be a good alternative to taking antidepressants.

“A diet rich in Omega 3 has the advantage of not causing any side effects and being more socially acceptable, and it could convince uncooperative patients to start treatment,” the psychiatrist claims. In a recent study, he was interested in exploring the benefits depressed people could gain in taking Omega-3. The preliminary results were published in the journal Biological Psychiatry last January.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are necessary to a body’s functioning and are found in vegetable oils, particularly sunflower, corn and canola, as well as certain dried fruits and, of course, fatty fish.

Prof. Lespérance shares the theory that depression could be brought on by a deficiency in polyunsaturated fatty acids, namely Omega-3 and Omega-6. “They act on several biological mechanisms,” the researcher says of the fatty acids. “In the brain mechanism, they act on many neuromessengers by increasing ease of transmission or activating some neurons differently.”

The pilot study, the final results of which will be available at the end of June, looked at 90 patients suffering minor and severe depression who were on antidepressant medication. An Italian study of 11,000 patients, showed that a diet rich in Omega 3 protects against the symptoms of cardiovascular and psychiatric disease. Prof. Lespérance would now like to move onto his own clinical trial.

The psychiatrist at the CHUM’s Hôtel-Dieu Hospital first began his interest in fatty-acid’s effect on depression by studying the links between depression and cardiovascular disease. People who are depressed after a heart attack have a higher risk of morbidity. These patients are also more likely to develop cardiovascular disease,” François Lespérance notes.

We know that the brain controls the hormonal system, especially the cathecholamines (the hormones related to adrenaline). When disruption occurs, regulation does not work as well as normally. Blood platelets are also activated, which can cause thromboses (blockage of the arteries) and increase the inflammatory mechanisms that trigger heart attacks. Depressed people therefore develop more systemic illnesses, such as brain and vascular diseases.

The ability of polyunsaturated fatty acids in preventing cardiovascular disease is known. Several studies have demonstrated their benefits against atherosclerosis, a chronic disease of the arteries that gradually clogs the arterial wall. It seems to make sense then that someone has looked at its link to depression.

Researcher: François Lespérance
Telephone: (514) 890-8000 extension 15570

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