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Omega-3 levels and depression

Washington University researchers studying the interplay between depression and heart disease are studying whether dietary supplements called omega-3 fatty acids can be of benefit to people suffering from both ailments. Levels of omega-3 tend to be lower in the blood cells of heart patients and depressed patients. So the researchers attempted to improve symptoms of both depression and heart disease by treating the patients with the supplement. Their initial study found that depression did not improve with omega-3, but the researchers now report that the fatty acids did help some patients. They found that when a person had high blood levels of omega-3, that individual was more likely to respond to additional supplements of omega-3. The researchers now are conducting a study with higher levels of the supplements to see whether that might improve depression in heart patients.

RESEARCH STUDIES HAVE TURNED UP CONFLICTING RESULTS ABOUT WHETHER THE FATTY ACIDS FOUND IN FISH, LIKE SALMON, CAN HELP PEOPLE WITH HEART DISEASE AND DEPRESSION. SOME OF THOSE STUDIES INDICATE THAT THE ACIDS, CALLED OMEGA-3s, ARE HELPFUL. OTHERS HAVEN’T BEEN ABLE TO IDENTIFY ANY BENEFIT. BUT NOW A TEAM OF RESEARCHERS AT WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE IN ST. LOUIS HAS FOUND THAT A KEY INFLUENCE ON WHETHER OMEGA-3 WORKS MAY BE HOW MUCH OF THE STUFF A PERSON HAS IN HIS OR HER SYSTEM WHEN THE TREATMENT BEGINS. JIM DRYDEN HAS THE STORY…

A NUMBER OF SMALL STUDIES HAVE LINKED OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS TO IMPROVEMENTS IN DEPRESSION AND HEART DISEASE. WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY RESEARCHER ROBERT CARNEY HAS BEEN STUDYING LINKS BETWEEN DEPRESSION AND HEART DISEASE FOR DECADES, AND HE SAYS IT WOULD MAKE SENSE THAT THE FATTY ACIDS FOUND IN FISH, LIKE SALMON, MIGHT BE HELPFUL.

(act) :12 o/c heart disease

We have been trying to figure out how to improve depression

in patients with heart disease, and we know that omega-3 blood

levels tend to be lower in people with depression. They also

tend to be lower in people who have heart disease.

AND SOME STUDIES HAVE SUGGESTED THAT OMEGA-3s CAN HELP. THAT’S AN ATTRACTIVE IDEA TO A RESEARCHER LIKE CARNEY BECAUSE IT COULD HELP CONNECT THE DOTS BETWEEN MOOD AND CARDIAC FUNCTION.

(act) :13 o/c these two

And we felt that this might tie a lot of loose strings

together, in terms of why depression and heart disease?

And how does depression affect heart disease? If low

omega-3 levels might explain the connection between these two.

BUT WHEN CARNEY TESTED OMEGA-3s IN HEART PATIENTS, HE DIDN’T FIND AN EFFECT ON DEPRESSION, AT LEAST NOT IN EVERYONE. WHEN THEY WENT BACK TO TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHY, HIS TEAM LEARNED THAT THE OMEGA-3s WERE MORE EFFECTIVE IN PEOPLE WHOSE LEVELS OF OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS WERE HIGHER IN BLOOD CELLS WHEN THE STUDY BEGAN.

(act) :29 o/c the trial

Typically, in drug trials, you expect everyone to start out

at zero blood levels of the drug. But in studies of naturally

occurring substances, such as omega-3, people will come in at

different levels, depending on how much they’ve gotten from

their diets, what their metabolism of that particular substance

is, how much they actually are able to incorporate into tissues

and blood. So unlike traditional drug trials, we’re likely to see

a wide range of levels that exist prior to beginning the trial.

AND CARNEY’S TEAM FOUND THAT THE WIDE RANGE OF LEVELS DID HAVE AN INFLUENCE ON WHETHER PEOPLE GOT LESS DEPRESSED WHEN TAKING OMEGA-3, BUT IT DIDN’T WORK THE WAY HE WOULD HAVE EXPECTED.

(act) :17 o/c omega-3

You would typically think that someone who has a low blood

level of something would benefit most when you would give

them that supplement that people who already have relatively

high levels, and we actually found the opposite to be true.

People who started with a relatively high level actually

benefitted more from omega-3.

SO NOW HIS TEAM IS GOING BACK TO TAKE ANOTHER LOOK, MEASURING THE LEVELS OF OMEGA-3 IN BLOOD CELLS AT THE START OF THE NEW STUDY AND DELIVERING HIGHER DOSES OF SPECIFIC TYPES OF THE FATTY ACIDS TO SEE WHETHER THAT MIGHT MAKE MAKE THEM MORE EFFECTIVE AS A DEPRESSION TREATMENT IN HEART PATIENTS.

(act) :24 o/c omega-3 supplement

We think that people tend to incorporate this differently, so not

only is their likely to be a difference in diet — and we know that

there is, in fact — but the ability, then, of their bodies to

incorporate the omega-3 into blood cells and to tissues is likely

to be highly variable. That may well have an impact in terms of

whether they respond to the omega-3 supplement.

CARNEY AND HIS COLLEAGUES REPORT THEIR FINDINGS IN THE JOURNAL OF CLINICAL PSYCHIATRY. I’M JIM DRYDEN…

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