Is there any benefit to taking fish oil supplements for depression?

Answer From Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D.

Some studies in adults suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in the treatment of mild to moderate depression, but more research is needed.

Fish oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in brain function. People with depression may have low blood levels of brain chemicals called eicosapentaenoic (i-koe-suh-pen-tuh-e-NO-ik) acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (doe-koe-suh-hek-suh-e-NO-ik) acid (DHA). EPA and DHA can be found in fish oil.

Eating fish a few times a week may provide your body with these healthy oils. Examples of fish high in omega-3s include sardines, salmon, herring, trout and canned white (albacore) tuna. Because some types of fish have higher levels of mercury than others, follow the recommendations of the Food and Drug Administration (fda.gov), especially if you're pregnant or nursing.

While it's generally true that the best way to get nutrients is through healthy foods, this is one example where a supplement may help. Some studies have shown that contaminants such as mercury do not appear to accumulate in fish oil, but remain primarily in the meat of the fish. So if you're concerned about mercury, a high-quality fish oil supplement may help with depression, but ask your doctor for advice.

Although using fish oil is generally safe, taking too much can increase your risk of bleeding and might suppress your immune response, so take fish oil supplements only under a doctor's supervision.

Fish oil isn't considered a replacement for treatment of depression, but it may be helpful as an addition to prescribed medications or other treatment. Although more studies are needed to determine exactly what role omega-3s play in depression, it's possible that fish oil supplements high in omega-3s may help lower the risk of depression — and omega-3 fatty acids help reduce high triglyceride levels and may help protect heart health.

Nov. 09, 2018 See more Expert Answers

See also

  1. MIND diet may cut Alzheimer's risk
  2. Addison's disease
  3. Adjustment disorders
  4. Adrenal fatigue: What causes it?
  5. After a flood, are food and medicines safe to use?
  6. Alzheimer's: New treatments
  7. Alzheimer's 101
  8. Caregiver depression
  9. Understanding the difference between dementia types
  10. Alzheimer's: Can a head injury increase my risk?
  11. Mediterranean diet
  12. Alzheimer's disease
  13. Alzheimer's disease: Can exercise prevent memory loss?
  14. Alzheimer's drugs
  15. Alzheimer's genes
  16. Alzheimer's nose spray: New Alzheimer's treatment?
  17. Alzheimer's or depression: Could it be both?
  18. Alzheimer's prevention: Does it exist?
  19. Alzheimer's stages
  20. Alzheimer's test: Detection at the earliest stages
  21. Ambien: Is dependence a concern?
  22. Antidepressant withdrawal: Is there such a thing?
  23. Antidepressants and alcohol: What's the concern?
  24. Antidepressants and weight gain: What causes it?
  25. Antidepressants: Can they stop working?
  26. Antidepressants: Side effects
  27. Antidepressants: Selecting one that's right for you
  28. Antidepressants: Which cause the fewest sexual side effects?
  29. Antiphospholipid syndrome
  30. Antidepressants and pregnancy
  31. Atypical antidepressants
  32. Atypical depression
  33. Axona: Medical food to treat Alzheimer's
  34. Back pain
  35. Bedtime routines: Not just for babies
  36. Benefits of being bilingual
  37. Binge-eating disorder
  38. Blood Basics
  39. Borderline personality disorder
  40. Breast-feeding and medications
  41. Dr. Wallace Video
  42. Parathyroid
  43. Caffeine and depression: Is there a link?
  44. The role of diet and exercise in preventing Alzheimer's disease
  45. Can music help someone with Alzheimer's?
  46. Can't sleep? Try daytime exercise
  47. Hidradenitis suppurativa wound care
  48. Celiac disease
  49. Celiac disease: Can gluten be absorbed through the skin?
  50. Celiac disease diet: How do I get enough grains?
  51. Chase away the winter blues
  52. Child abuse
  53. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy
  54. CJD - Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
  55. Clinical depression: What does that mean?
  56. Clinical trials for hidradenitis suppurativa
  57. Coconut oil: Can it cure hypothyroidism?
  58. Coffee after dinner? Make it decaf
  59. Complete blood count (CBC)
  60. Complicated grief
  61. Compulsive sexual behavior
  62. Concussion
  63. Concussion in children
  64. Concussion Recovery
  65. Concussion Telemedicine
  66. Coping with the stress of hidradenitis suppurativa
  67. Coping with the emotional ups and downs of psoriatic arthritis
  68. Creating a hidradenitis suppurativa care team
  69. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  70. Cupping therapy: Can it relieve fibromyalgia pain?
  71. Cushing syndrome
  72. Cyclothymia (cyclothymic disorder)
  73. Delirium
  74. Depression and anxiety: Can I have both?
  75. Depression, anxiety and exercise
  76. Depression: Diagnosis is key
  77. Depression during pregnancy
  78. Depression in women: Understanding the gender gap
  79. Depression (major depressive disorder)
  80. Depression: Provide support, encouragement
  81. Depression: Supporting a family member or friend
  82. Diabetes and depression: Coping with the two conditions
  83. Diagnosing Alzheimer's
  84. Dissociative disorders
  85. Vitamin C and mood
  86. Drug addiction (substance use disorder)
  87. Early-onset Alzheimer's
  88. Alzheimer's elder care
  89. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
  90. Empty nest syndrome
  91. Fatigue
  92. Fibromyalgia
  93. Fibromyalgia or not?
  94. Fibromyalgia and acupuncture
  95. Fibromyalgia: Does exercise help or hurt?
  96. Fibromyalgia: Linked to other health problems?
  97. Fibromyalgia pain: Options for coping
  98. Fibromyalgia: Self-care tips
  99. Fibromyalgia and Neurontin
  100. Folic acid supplements: Can they slow cognitive decline?
  101. Foods and sleep
  102. Ginkgo biloba: Can it prevent memory loss?
  103. Global Bridges
  104. HABIT program orientation
  105. Hangover prevention: Do lighter colored drinks help?
  106. Hangovers
  107. Hashimoto's disease
  108. Headache
  109. Hidradenitis suppurativa
  110. Hidradenitis suppurativa and biologics: Get the facts
  111. Hidradenitis suppurativa and diet: What's recommended?
  112. Hidradenitis suppurativa: What is it?
  113. Hidradenitis suppurativa: When does it appear?
  114. How opioid addiction occurs
  115. How to tell if a loved one is abusing opioids
  116. How to use opioids safely
  117. Huperzine A: Can it treat Alzheimer's?
  118. Hyperparathyroidism
  119. Hypoparathyroidism
  120. Hypothyroidism: Can calcium supplements interfere with treatment?
  121. Hypothyroidism diet
  122. Hypothyroidism and joint pain?
  123. Hypothyroidism: Should I take iodine supplements?
  124. Hypothyroidism symptoms: Can hypothyroidism cause eye problems?
  125. Hypothyroidism
  126. Insomnia
  127. Insomnia: How do I stay asleep?
  128. Insomnia treatment: Cognitive behavioral therapy instead of sleeping pills
  129. Intervention: Help a loved one overcome addiction
  130. Is depression a factor in rheumatoid arthritis?
  131. Is fibromyalgia hereditary?
  132. Is the definition of Alzheimer's disease changing?
  133. Depression and diet
  134. Kratom for opioid withdrawal
  135. Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?
  136. Lexapro side effects: Is breast tenderness common?
  137. Living better with hidradenitis suppurativa
  138. Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  139. Male depression: Understanding the issues
  140. Managing depression in MS
  141. Managing Headaches
  142. Managing hidradenitis suppurativa: Early treatment is crucial
  143. Hidradenitis suppurativa-related health risks
  144. MAOIs and diet: Is it necessary to restrict tyramine?
  145. Marijuana and depression
  146. Mayo Clinic Minute: 3 tips to reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease
  147. Mayo Clinic Minute: Alzheimer's disease risk and lifestyle
  148. Mayo Clinic Minute New definition of Alzheimer's changes
  149. Mayo Clinic Minute: Prevent migraines with magnetic stimulation
  150. Mayo Clinic Minute Weathering migraines
  151. Mayo Clinic Minute: Women and Alzheimer's Disease
  152. Medication overuse headaches
  153. Meditation
  154. Mediterranean diet recipes
  155. Memory loss: When to seek help
  156. Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness
  157. Mental health providers: Tips on finding one
  158. Mental health
  159. Mental illness
  160. Migraine
  161. Migraine medications and antidepressants
  162. Migraine treatment: Can antidepressants help?
  163. Infographic: Migraine Treatments: Botox & Nerve Blocking
  164. Migraines and gastrointestinal problems: Is there a link?
  165. Migraines and Vertigo
  166. Migraines: Are they triggered by weather changes?
  167. Alleviating migraine pain
  168. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
  169. Mild depression: Are antidepressants effective?
  170. Mindfulness exercises
  171. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  172. Natural remedies for depression: Are they effective?
  173. Nervous breakdown: What does it mean?
  174. New Alzheimers Research
  175. Nicotine dependence
  176. Not tired? Don't go to bed
  177. Occipital nerve stimulation: Effective migraine treatment?
  178. Ocular migraine: When to seek help
  179. Opioids and other drugs: What to watch for
  180. Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  181. Pain and depression: Is there a link?
  182. Pancreatic cancer
  183. Infographic: Pancreatic Cancer: Minimally Invasive Surgery
  184. Pancreatic Cancer Survivor
  185. Pancreatic cancer treatment: Why is it so challenging?
  186. Infographic: Pancreatic Cancers-Whipple
  187. Perimenopause
  188. Perimenopause birth control options
  189. Pet therapy
  190. Phosphatidylserine supplements: Can they improve memory?
  191. Pituitary tumors
  192. Polymyalgia rheumatica
  193. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  194. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  195. Prescription drug abuse
  196. Prescription sleeping pills: What's right for you?
  197. Progressive supranuclear palsy
  198. Psychotherapy
  199. Rapidly progressing Alzheimer's: Something else?
  200. Reducing the discomfort of hidradenitis suppurativa: Self-care tips
  201. Salt craving: A symptom of Addison's disease?
  202. Savella may help fatigue
  203. Schizoaffective disorder
  204. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  205. Choosing a light box
  206. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  207. Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  208. Skip booze for better sleep
  209. Sleep disorders
  210. Sleep tips
  211. Smoking and rheumatoid arthritis: What's the risk?
  212. Soy: Does it worsen hypothyroidism?
  213. Staying active with hidradenitis suppurativa
  214. Stop your next migraine before it starts
  215. Stress symptoms
  216. Sundowning: Late-day confusion
  217. Support groups
  218. Surgery for hidradenitis suppurativa
  219. Symptom Checker
  220. Tapering off opioids: When and how
  221. Tinnitus and antidepressants
  222. Transcranial magnetic stimulation
  223. Traumatic brain injury
  224. Treating hidradenitis suppurativa: Explore your options
  225. Treating hidradenitis suppurativa with antibiotics and hormones
  226. Treating pain: When is an opioid the right choice?
  227. Treatment-resistant depression
  228. Tricyclic antidepressants and tetracyclic antidepressants
  229. Unexplained weight loss
  230. Vagus nerve stimulation
  231. Valerian: A safe and effective herbal sleep aid?
  232. Vascular dementia
  233. Video: Alzheimer's drug shows early promise
  234. Video: Vagus nerve stimulation
  235. Vitamin B-12 and depression
  236. Vitamin B-12 and Alzheimer's
  237. Vitamin D: Can it prevent Alzheimer's & dementia?
  238. What are opioids and why are they dangerous?
  239. What are the signs and symptoms of hidradenitis suppurativa?
  240. What is reflexology?
  241. Wilson's disease
  242. Wilson's syndrome: An accepted medical diagnosis?