EPA helps relieve psychological distress in women

The February, 2008 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported the outcome of a Canadian clinical trial which found a beneficial effect for eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in middle aged women suffering from psychological distress. Eicosapentaenoic acid is an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid that occurs in fish oil, which, along with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), has been linked with numerous health benefits.

Michel Lucas and his associates at Laval University in Quebec enrolled 120 women between the ages of 40 and 55 with moderate to severe psychological distress, which can sometimes occur during menopausal transition and early menopause. The group was randomized to receive 1.05 grams ethyl-EPA plus 0.15 grams ethyl-DHA in divided doses, or a placebo daily for eight weeks. Self-rating of symptoms, the Psychological General Well-Being Schedule, and a depression scale symptom check list were completed at the beginning of the study, and at the end of four and eight weeks.

Twenty-four percent of the participants met the criteria of undergoing a major depressive episode. When these women were excluded from the analysis, psychological distress symptoms among those who received EPA were found to have improved significantly after 8 weeks compared to subjects who received the placebo. Women who received a placebo were likelier to drop out of the study than women who received EPA, and although the authors did not consider the amount significant, they remarked that lack of improvement in the placebo group could have increased this likeliness.

In their discussion of possible mechanisms of EPA against psychological distress, the authors note that polyunsaturated fatty acids are needed by brain cell membranes, and that a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids can impact transmission of serotonin, a neurohormone involved in mood. EPA and DHA have anti-inflammatory and other effects on brain biochemistry, including an ability to alter the expression of enzymes. “To our knowledge, the current trial is the first to compare the effect of ethyl-EPA omega-3 supplementation with placebo on psychological distress and depressive symptoms in middle-aged women,” the authors write. “Because EPA and DHA supplements have beneficial outcomes on cardiovascular disease, have no serious side effects, and might be helpful in reducing hot flashes, research should be encouraged in middle-aged women with psychological distress and depressive symptoms.”

From the Life Extension Foundation website. Visit http://www.lef.org for more information!

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