A common problem for women going though the menopause is the experience of psychological symptoms such as anxiety, mood swings and depression. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and/or antidepressant medication is often offered to women going through the menopause in order to address such features. These medications are linked with a variety of side effects and often women prefer to seek more natural alternatives in order to deal with their symptoms.
A very recent study (1) has indicated the usefulness of the long chain omega 3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), naturally found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines, in the protection against depressive and mood related symptoms in menopausal women. The study involved 120 women with moderate-to-severe psychological distress. These individuals were randomly assigned to receive either an omega 3 supplement (containing EPA and DHA) or a placebo supplement (containing sunflower oil) for 8 weeks. Changes in psychological wellbeing and depressive symptoms was assessed in these women via the use of specific medical scales and questionnaires.
Previous studies have shown the usefulness of using omega 3 fatty acids in the treatment of depression and mood disorders but this was the first trial using omega 3 fats in the treatment of psychological distress and depressive symptoms in menopausal women. The results were useful and positive. In a press release (2) the lead study scientist, Dr Lucas, said that the test results before and after the eight-week period indicate that omega-3s significantly improved the condition of women suffering symptoms of psychological distress and mild depression. (No positive effect was observed among a small sub-group of women with more severe depressive symptoms). These results suggest that omega-3 supplementation may be beneficial for improving the psychological wellbeing of some menopausal women.
Women with hot flashes also noted that their condition improved after consuming omega-3 fatty acids. The change that could be attributed to the use of omega-3 fats was equivalent to results obtained with hormone therapy and antidepressants (1,2).
The results do not surprise me. There is now mounting evidence to support the use of omega 3 fatty acids in the treatment and prevention of anxiety and depression/depressive symptoms in a range of individuals (including children with ADHD). Omega 3 fatty acids are absolutely essential for healthy brain structure and function. Our bodies cannot make these essential omega 3 fatty acids (that is why they are known as essential fats), they must be taken in through the diet and are vital to numerous aspects of health. We really do need to feed our brains!
If you do not regularly eat oily fish you may wish to consider a fish oil supplement providing around 350mg EPA and 350mg DHA daily. Vegetarians may wish to think about taking a flaxseed oil supplement providing 500-1000mg alpha linolenic acid daily. In the UK, and western world as a whole, most of us do not get enough omega 3 fats from our diets. A supplement could be very useful to provide widespread health benefits. As you will notice from my previous blog posts I mention omega 3 fatty acids regularly and am incredibly interested in the ongoing medical research surrounding these fats.
(1)Lucas M et al. 2009. Ethyl-eicosapentaenoic acid for the treatment of psychological distress and depressive symptoms in middle-aged women: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. Am J Clin Nutr 89: 641-651.
(2)Université Laval (2009, February 1). Omega-3 Fatty Acids Ease Depressive Symptoms Related To Menopause. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 2, 2009,
Written by Ani Kowal