Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids May Ease Anxiety

Treatment with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may help reduce symptoms of anxiety, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open.

The review and meta-analysis tapped data from 19 clinical trials which included 2240 participants (1203 treated with omega-3 PUFAs and 1037 without) from 11 countries. Participants had a wide range of psychiatric and physical conditions, including borderline personality disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, test anxiety, acute myocardial infarction, and premenstrual syndrome. Others were from the general population and had no specific clinical conditions.

“Although participants and diagnoses were heterogeneous, the main finding of this meta-analysis was that omega-3 PUFAs were associated with significant reduction in anxiety symptoms compared with controls,” researchers wrote. “This effect persisted vs placebo controls.”

The Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Mental Health Care

Researchers also discovered daily dosages higher than 2000 mg were linked with a significantly higher anxiolytic effect, compared with lower dosages. In addition, supplements with less than 60% eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) were significantly associated with reduced anxiety symptoms, but supplements with 60% or more EPA were not.

“The depression literature supports the clinical benefits of EPA-enriched formulations (≥60% or ≥50%) compared with placebo for the treatment of clinical depression,” researchers noted. “This opposite effect of EPA-enriched formations on anxiety and depression is intriguing and possibly linked to a distinct underlying mechanism of omega-3 PUFAs.”

Researchers voiced the need for larger, well-designed clinical trials to further investigate high-dose omega-3 PUFAs, both as monotherapy and as adjunctive treatment, in patients with anxiety.

—Jolynn Tumolo


Su K, Tseng P, Lin P, et al. Association of use of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids with changes in severity of anxiety symptoms. JAMA Network Open. 2018 September 14.