Vol. 12, No. 3, 2006 Page 7


Major depression is becoming more common in children, and dramatically increases the risk of substance abuse and suicide. A new study indicates that a simple treatment— supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids—can reduce or even eliminate the symptoms of major childhood depression, quickly and without side effects.

Hanah Nemets and colleagues enlisted 28 children in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on first-time episodes of major depression. Of these, 20 children completed at least one month of the study, while eight (most of them in the placebo group) dropped out for reasons unrelated to the treatment. The children ranged in age from 8 to 12, and had been depressed for an average of slightly more than three months.

Half of the children received daily doses of 400 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 200 mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both omega-3 fatty acids. This ratio of EPA to DHA, Nemets and colleagues say, is similar to the ratio found in most over-the-counter omega-3 supplements. Children in the placebo group received capsules containing either olive oil or safflower oil.

The researchers tested the children at intervals during the 16-week study, using three assessments: the Childhood Depression Rating Scale (CDRS), the Clinical Global Impression scale (CGI), and the Childhood Depression Inventory (CDI). The first two tests are scored by clinicians, while test subjects evaluate their own symptoms on the remaining test.

Nemets and colleagues report that the effects of omega-3 administration were highly significant. "Among the children on omega-3 treatment," they say, "seven out of ten had a greater than 50% reduction in CDRS scores. Of those on placebo, zero out of 10 had a greater than 50% reduction in CDRS scores." They add that four of the ten children in the omega-3 group met commonly used criteria for remission, while no children in the placebo group had CDRS scores indicating a remission. Results of the CGI and the self-rated CDI revealed similar improvements. Analysis showed significant effects of treatment at the 8-week, 12-week, and 16-week testing points.

"There were no clinically relevant side effects reported," the researchers say, and patients were unable to tell whether they were receiving the active treatment or the placebo.

The researchers conclude, "Omega-3 fatty acids may have therapeutic benefits in childhood depression." They note that a similar study they conducted earlier showed that the nutrients benefit adults with depression as well. In that study, participants received only EPA, as an add-on to drug therapy.


"Omega-3 treatment of childhood depression: a controlled, double-blind pilot study," Hanah Nemets, Boris Nemets, Alan Apter, Ziva Bracha, and R. H. Belmaker, American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 163, No. 6, June 2006, 1098- 1100. Address: R. H. Belmaker, Beer-Sheva Mental Health Center, P.O. Box 4600, Beer-Sheva, Israel, belmaker@bgu.ac.il.

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