Despite earlier reports to the contrary, patients suffering from heart disease and depression may benefit from taking supplements of omega-3 fatty acids. New research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis indicates that initial levels of omega-3 fatty acids in a heart patient’s blood have a significant impact on whether that person will respond to omega-3 supplements to treat depression. “We found that people with higher levels of omega-3 in their blood may benefit more from additional omega-3, in the form of supplements, than those whose blood levels of the fatty acids were lower at the outset,” said principal investigator Robert M. Carney, professor of psychiatry. “Because depression is linked to heart attacks and sudden cardiac death in patients with cardiovascular disease, we have been trying to figure out how best to improve depression in these patients. These findings offer potential answers for a very significant problem.” The findings are published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
“Typically in drug trials, you expect every subject to start out at a blood level of zero of the drug you’re studying,” he said. “Then the subjects receive a placebo or the active drug. But in studies looking at a naturally occurring substance like omega-3, people tend to come in with different amounts in their blood, depending on their diet, how well they metabolize omega-3, and other factors.” The researchers found that although some people with high blood levels of omega-3s eat a lot of fatty fish, others simply maintain higher levels for reasons that are not well-understood.”Most researchers have relied on dietary information,” he said. “You can make a crude estimate based on that information, but we found in our new study that there was a relatively weak correlation between what patients report about omega-3 in their diets and their actual blood levels.”