When antidepressants don't work – try this

October 30, 2014
Volume 11    |   Issue 43

If you are depressed and your antidepressants aren't helping, a new study has found that the answer may be in your diet.

According to a new study, you may not need to change your medication to start experiencing its benefits, you may just need to eat more fish. This new study explored the relationship between fatty fish intake and response rates to antidepressants.

Research suggests that up to half of patients with depression do not experience benefits from selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants. A team of scientists wanted to find out why this is, and they uncovered a relationship between fatty acids and responses to the medications.

Lead researcher Roel Mocking explains, "We were looking for biological alterations that could explain depression and antidepressant non-response, so we combined two apparently unrelated measures: metabolism of fatty acids and stress hormone regulation. Interestingly, we saw that depressed patients had an altered metabolism of fatty acids and that this changed metabolism was regulated in a different way by stress hormones."

In order to dig deeper into this discovery, the team studied 70 patients with depression and 51 without. They measured and compared the participants' levels of fatty acids and cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Then they gave the patients with depression a 20 mg dose of an SSRI every day for six weeks. If the patients didn't respond to 20 mg, they gradually increased the dose up to 50 mg a day. Patients that didn't respond to the SSRI typically demonstrated abnormal fatty acid metabolism.


Because fish are a great source of fatty acids, the researchers then examined the participants' diets. They weren't surprised to find that those who ate fish the least responded less positively to the SSRIs, and those who ate the most had the best reactions. In fact, those who ate fatty fish once a week or more had a 75% chance of responding positively, compared to only a 23% chance for those who never ate fatty fish.

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Mocking concluded, "These findings suggest that measures of fatty acid metabolism, and their association with stress hormone regulation, might be of use in the clinic as an early indicator of future antidepressant response. Moreover, fatty acid metabolism could be influenced by eating fish, which may be a way to improve antidepressant response rates."  

So if you or a loved one is struggling with depression and antidepressants don't seem to be helping, try adding more fish to your diet or take fish oil supplements. And even if you aren't struggling with depression, it's still a good idea to eat fish on a regular basis. The omega-3 fatty acids you'll gain have a wealth of benefits beyond helping you respond positively to antidepressants.

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