A total of 162 subjects, all of whom were being treated for hepatitis C infection, were randomized in a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Two weeks before starting interferon therapy, patients were given a daily treatment of 5 identical capsules of EPA (3.5 g/d), DHA (1.75 g/d), or placebo (high oleic oil, 3.5 g/d). The incident rates of depression were significantly lower in EPA-treated patients but not in DHA-treated patients (P=.037). Incidence of depression in the placebo group was 30%, while in the EPA group, it was 10% (DHA alone was 28%). Both supplementation of EPA or DHA significantly delayed the onset of IFN α‒induced depression, with the week of onset at week 12 and week 11.7, respectively, vs week 5.3 for placebo (P=.002). EPA and DHA were both well tolerated in this population.
This simple intervention of 2 weeks of EPA could reduce the need to prescribe antidepressants that may have detrimental side effects. From a clinical perspective, this study suggests natural medicine practitioners have a safe, effective and easy-to-use option to offer HCV patients preparing to begin interferon therapy. The use of EPA may help lower the incidence of depression and may preclude the need for more toxic medications to control depressive side effects.