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How Long Before Fish Oil Works on Depression?

Updated on August 8, 2012

The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil could prevent or provide relief from depression. While they aren't considered a replacement for standard mental health treatment, they are often used in addition to conventional methods to help people with depression. Unfortunately, many doctors and other health professionals do not always tell patients what kind of effects they can expect or how long it takes for those effects to appear.

If you are wondering how long before fish oil works on depression, you are not alone. Many other patients with emotional disorders find themselves wondering whether their supplements are really working. A little information from scientific studies on fish oil should be all it takes to help you understand, however.

Omega-3s and Depression

A late 1990s report in the Journal of Affective Disorders noted that people who suffered from depression consistently had lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their red blood cell membranes. Specifically, these people had low levels of eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. Both of these substances are readily available in the flesh, fat and organs of oily fish like salmon, tuna and herring. Other studies have shown that countries where fatty fish are readily consumed also have lower overall rates of depression, underlining a link between the two.

Fish Oil Effectiveness

Several studies have suggested that fish oil supplementation can help people who suffer from depressive-type emotional disorders. For instance, in the May 1999 edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry, a study of 30 bipolar patients showed that 64 percent of people consuming 10 grams of fish oil daily showed a significant improvement. Patients taking a placebo showed only a 19 percent benefit. The fish oil in this study reduced only depressive symptoms, not manic periods.

In a 2009 Canadian study, omega-3 fatty acids were given to menopausal women suffering from both major and minor depression. These people received one gram of omega-3s per day and showed a reduction in depression compared to the placebo group. A 2010 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry mentioned that omega-3s work very well as an adjunct therapy to conventional medications. Another study in the same journal, however, followed 55,000 nurses over the course of 10 years and suggested that eating omega-3s on their own won't prevent depression.

Time Frame for Fish Oil

The amount of time it takes to see an effect on your depression while taking fish oil supplements will vary by person. Everyone's disorder works a little differently and every body reacts in a different way to supplementation. The time frame may also depend on the amount of fish oil you are taking; larger doses can work more quickly but are much harder to tolerate, so many people work their way up from a smaller amount.

The bipolar disorder study in the Archives of General Psychiatry lasted for four months and showed effects within 30 days. Patients who took omega-3 supplements maintained an even mood for much longer than patients who took an olive oil placebo. By the end of the four month trial, 85 percent of the omega-3 group was still relatively stable. If you take fish oil for depression for more than a few months without beneficial effects, you may need to revisit your treatment options.

Wondering how long before fish oil works on depression is natural. After all, if you have been suffering from depression, you need relief. It is important not to expect fish oil to magically get rid of your depressed mood, however. This treatment takes time to work and does best in conjunction with medication, therapy and other options.


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