Fish oil has gotten a lot of bad press lately. After a decade or two of enthusiasm for its benefits in preventing heart disease, arthritis and dry eyes, scientists concluded that there is little or no evidence for its effectiveness in these conditions. (See these stories on heart disease and dry eyes.) On the other hand, fish oil just might help ease your anxiety.
Could Supplements Really Ease Your Anxiety?
A new meta-analysis of 19 clinical trials involving more than 2,000 participants suggests that omega-3 fatty acid supplements help reduce the severity of anxiety (JAMA Network Open, Sept. 14, 2018). These findings held up in both placebo-controlled and non-placebo-controlled trials.
The researchers concluded that despite variations in how the studies were set up,
“the main finding of this meta-analysis was that omega-3 PUFAs were associated with significant reduction in anxiety symptoms compared with controls; this effect persisted vs placebo controls.”
How Much Fish Oil Does It Take to Ease Your Anxiety?
The doses that appeared most effective were 2,000 mg per day or higher, with less than 60 percent EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). The investigators point out that their previous research showed that people with low levels of omega-3 fatty acids are more prone to anxiety. Genetic variations that affect these levels also appear linked to anxiety symptoms. They suggest that the high levels of these fatty acids in brain cell membranes might help explain their importance. Like most scientists, they call for larger, well-controlled trials of high-dose omega-3 supplements to clarify the psychological benefits.