Background: Despite omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) supplementation in depressed patients have been suggested to improve depressive symptomatology, previous findings are not univocal.
Objectives: To conduct an updated meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of omega-3 PUFA treatment of depressive disorders, taking into account the clinical differences among patients included in the studies.
Methods: A search on MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycInfo, and the Cochrane Database of RCTs using omega-3 PUFA on patients with depressive symptoms published up to August 2013 was performed. Standardized mean difference in clinical measure of depression severity was primary outcome. Type of omega-3 used (particularly eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]) and omega-3 as mono- or adjuvant therapy was also examined. Meta-regression analyses assessed the effects of study size, baseline depression severity, trial duration, dose of omega-3, and age of patients.
Results: Meta-analysis of 11 and 8 trials conducted respectively on patients with a DSM-defined diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD) and patients with depressive symptomatology but no diagnosis of MDD demonstrated significant clinical benefit of omega-3 PUFA treatment compared to placebo (standardized difference in random-effects model 0.56 SD [95% CI: 0.20, 0.92] and 0.22 SD [95% CI: 0.01, 0.43], respectively; pooled analysis was 0.38 SD [95% CI: 0.18, 0.59]). Use of mainly EPA within the preparation, rather than DHA, influenced final clinical efficacy. Significant clinical efficacy had the use of omega-3 PUFA as adjuvant rather than mono-therapy. No relation between efficacy and study size, baseline depression severity, trial duration, age of patients, and study quality was found. Omega-3 PUFA resulted effective in RCTs on patients with bipolar disorder, whereas no evidence was found for those exploring their efficacy on depressive symptoms in young populations, perinatal depression, primary disease other than depression and healthy subjects.
Conclusions: The use of omega-3 PUFA is effective in patients with diagnosis of MDD and on depressive patients without diagnosis of MDD.