McLean study suggests that Omega-3 fatty acids may prevent depression as well as antidepressant drugs

March 23rd, 2005

William Carlezon, Ph.D., director of McLean's Behavioral Genetics Laboratory, has published a study in Biological Psychiatry, in which it is reported that omega-3 fatty acids and uridine, two naturally occurring substances in many foods, including fish, walnuts, molasses and sugar beets, prevented the development of signs of depression in rats as effectively as antidepressant drugs.

The study, co-authored by Bruce Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Molecular Pharmacology Laboratory, and Perry Renshaw, M.D, Ph.D., director of the Brain Imaging Center showed that giving rats a combination of uridine and omega-3 fatty acids produced immediate effects that were indistinguishable from those caused by giving the rats standard antidepressant medications. Normally, rats quickly develop learned helplessness behavior - believed to reflect despair in animal models - when tested repeatedly under stressful conditions. Rats given injections of uridine or fed a diet enriched with high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids showed fewer signs of despair than untreated rats.

Although the reasons for the effectiveness of these treatments are not understood, important clues are beginning to emerge. One possibility is that these substances target the brain's mitochondria, a microscopic energy-producing component found in all cells of the body. Mitochondria produce energy through reactions that occur on their membranes. In addition to the results reported, this study provides more evidence that our behavior - including the selection of the foods we use to fuel our body - can have a tremendous influence on how we feel and act, and that sustained improvements in diet may have beneficial effects on mood.

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