To determine if the available data support the use of omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) for clinical use in the prevention and/or treatment of psychiatric disorders.
The authors of this article were invited participants in the Omega-3 Fatty Acids Subcommittee, assembled by the Committee on Research on Psychiatric Treatments of the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
Published literature and data presented at scientific meetings were reviewed. Specific disorders reviewed included major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, borderline personality disorder and impulsivity, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Meta-analyses were conducted in major depressive and bipolar disorders and schizophrenia, as sufficient data were available to conduct such analyses in these areas of interest.
The subcommittee prepared the manuscript, which was reviewed and approved by the following APA committees: the Committee on Research on Psychiatric Treatments, the Council on Research, and the Joint Reference Committee.
The preponderance of epidemiologic and tissue compositional studies supports a protective effect of omega-3 EFA intake, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), in mood disorders. Meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials demonstrate a statistically significant benefit in unipolar and bipolar depression (p = .02). The results were highly heterogeneous, indicating that it is important to examine the characteristics of each individual study to note the differences in design and execution. There is less evidence of benefit in schizophrenia. EPA and DHA appear to have negligible risks and some potential benefit in major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder, but results remain inconclusive in most areas of interest in psychiatry. Treatment recommendations and directions for future research are described. Health benefits of omega-3 EFA may be especially important in patients with psychiatric disorders, due to high prevalence rates of smoking and obesity and the metabolic side effects of some psychotropic medications.