Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce depression by their anti inflammatory effects: Study
Researchers from the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre have found in a new study that Anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids could help reduce depression.
The study set out to test the theory that when omega-3 fatty acids are utilised and processed in the body, some of their metabolites (known as lipid mediators) are able to protect the brain from the harmful effects of inflammation. Researchers used a validated in vitro human cell model known as 'depression in a dish' that was developed at the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and which uses cells from the hippocampus, a part of the brain fundamental in many cognitive, memory and learning areas thought to be important in depression. Hippocampal cells play an important role in the production of new neurones - neurogenesis.
The study showed that treating human hippocampal cells with EPA or DHA before being exposed to chemical messengers involved in inflammation called cytokines, prevented increased cell death and decreased neurogenesis. Both these impacts had been previously observed in cells exposed to cytokines alone. Further investigation confirmed these effects were mediated by the formation of several key lipid mediators produced by EPA and DHA, namely hydroxyeicosapentaenoic acid (HEPE), hydroxydocosahexaenoic acid (HDHA), epoxyeicosatetraenoic acid (EpETE) and epoxydocosapentaenoic acid (EpDPA), and these were detected for the first time in human hippocampal neurones. Further investigation showed that treatment with an enzyme inhibitor increased the availability of two of these metabolites (EpETE and EpDPA) suggesting a possible way by which future treatments could be optimised.
Professor Anna Nicolaou, professor of Biological Chemistry at the Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences, The University of Manchester, who led the team that measured the lipid mediators using mass spectrometry said: "The lipid mediators that our research identified are broken down in the body relatively quickly, which means they may only be available for a relatively short time. By testing the effect of inhibitors of the enzymes involved in the metabolism of omega-3 PUFA we showed that we can greatly improve how long they can have an effect in the body and ultimately, increase their efficacy. This is very important for the development of new treatments and means that patients could be given higher doses of EPA and DHA together with these enzyme inhibitors to increase the amount of these important compounds in their blood over time."
The study assessed twenty-two patients with major depression who were given either 3 grams of EPA or 1.4 grams of DHA daily for twelve weeks. The lipid metabolites of EPA and DHA were measured in their blood before and after the omega-3 PUFA treatment, along with a score of their depressive symptoms. In both groups of patients, EPA or DHA treatment was associated with an increase in their respective metabolites and a significant improvement in depressive symptoms - an average reduction in symptom scores of 64% and 71% in the EPA and DHA groups respectively. In addition, higher levels of the same metabolites identified in the in vitro experiments were correlated with lower levels of depressive symptoms.
The levels of EPA and DHA used in this study are concentrations that most likely cannot be achieved with dietary consumption of oily fish, a rich source of omega-3 PUFAs, but require therapeutic supplements.
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