Low omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids predict reduced response to standard antidepressants in patients with major depressive disorder.

Depression and anxiety. 2022

Plain language summary

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a leading cause of disability, and antidepressant drug treatment is only effective in over half of patients with a high prevalence of treatment resistance. The importance of nutrition in mental health is gaining recognition. Omega-3 is an essential polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) vital for anti-inflammatory processes and brain integrity. In the absence of the body's ability to make Omega-3, it or its precursors must be acquired from the diet. Yet altered metabolic pathways can hamper the process and the adequate balance with PUFA Omega‐6 is also crucial, as elevated levels of Omega-6 are linked to several diseases. An extensive amount of research suggests that higher Omega-3 levels reduce the occurrence of depression. Yet results using just Omega-3s for depression have been varied. This European-wide study sought to investigate how the PUFA status could affect the clinical response to treatment with antidepressants. 60-adults with an average age of 41 with major depressive disorders received antidepressive treatment. Their red blood cell fatty acids content was determined, and at the end of the 8-week trial treatment responders and non-responders were identified. Findings affirmed the existing knowledge that depressive symptoms are strongly associated with PUFA status. Patients who did not respond to treatment showed low levels of Omega-3 and an unfavourable ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 at the start of treatment. Higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acid of DHA seemed to produce a better clinical response to treatments than the Omega-3 of EPA. The authors discussed some potential mechanisms and suggested that PUFA intake and metabolism could be a potential tool for the management of treatment-unresponsive patients with depression. This review highlights the clinical importance of considering PUFA status and metabolism in the support of major depressive disorders.


BACKGROUND Major depressive disorder (MDD) is characterized by a high rate of treatment resistance. Omega (ω)-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) were shown to correlate with depressive phenotype both in rodents and in humans. However, few studies to date have investigated the role of PUFAs in antidepressant response. The primary aim of this study was to assess the link between baseline PUFA composition and changes in depressive symptoms as well as antidepressant response in a multicenter study of depressed patients. METHODS Sixty depressed adults who met criteria for MDD according to DSM-IV-TR were recruited. Neuropsychiatric evaluations occurred at baseline and after 4 and 8 weeks of treatment with standard antidepressants, including escitalopram (N = 45), sertraline (N = 13) and venlafaxine (N = 2). At study endpoint, patients were stratified into responders (R) or non-responders (NR) based on their MADRS (Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale) score. Baseline PUFA levels were assessed and their association with clinical response was determined. RESULTS Lower ω-3 PUFA levels were associated to worse baseline symptomatology. Baseline levels of PUFAs were significantly different between R and NR, with R exhibiting lower docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and ω-3 index; and higher ω-6/ω-3 ratio than NR before the start of antidepressant treatment. DHA levels as well as the ω-3 index and ω-6/ω-3 ratio significantly predicted response to antidepressants at study endpoint. CONCLUSIONS These results show that baseline levels of PUFAs predict later response to standard antidepressants in depressed subjects. They suggest that PUFA intake and/or metabolism represent a novel modifiable tool for the management of unresponsive depressed patients.

Lifestyle medicine

Fundamental Clinical Imbalances : Immune and inflammation
Environmental Inputs : Diet ; Nutrients
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Nutrition
Functional Laboratory Testing : Blood
Bioactive Substances : Escitalopram ; Sertraline ; Venlafaxine

Methodological quality

Jadad score : Not applicable
Allocation concealment : Not applicable
Publication Type : Journal Article