Study Reviews

Omega-3 can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety

  • 11/22/2018

Anxiety is the most common psychiatric symptom, often associated with depressive disorders and related to an increased risk of mortality from all causes. Therapeutic options include psychological and pharmacological therapies. Individuals with anxiety disorders are usually reticent about starting psychological treatments, which can be costly in terms of time and money, and worry about possible side effects of medication (e.g. sedation or addiction).

To assess the efficacy of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (ω-3 PUFA) on anxiety, a meta-analysis of published literature (PubMed, Embase, ProQuest, ScienceDirect, Cochrane Library, ClinicalKey, Web of Science and up to March 2018 was carried out, analysing the association of anxiety symptoms with ω-3 PUFA treatment compared to controls in a variety of populations. A total of 1,203 participants in treatment with ω-3 PUFA (mean age: 43.7 years; 55% women; mean dose of ω-3 PUFA: 1,605.7 mg/d) were compared with 1,037 participants not treated with ω-3 PUFA (mean age: 40.6 years; 55% women), all of them participants in 19 clinical trials in 11 different countries.

The results showed that treatment with ω-3 PUFA was associated with a significant reduction in the clinical symptoms of anxiety; furthermore, in the subgroup analysis, this reduction was significantly larger in the subgroups with specific clinical diagnoses, while the anxyolitic effect of ω-3 PUFA treatment was only significantly larger than in the controls in the subgroups that received doses of at least 2,000 mg/d.

These results are consistent with recent findings which show somatic anxiety is associated with ω-3 PUFA deficiencies. The cell membranes in the brain contain a high proportion of ω-3 PUFA and their derivatives and most animal and human studies indicate that a lack of ω-3 PUFA could induce various behavioural and neuropsychiatric disorders, including anxiety. The evidence shows that ω-3 PUFA interferes and possibly controls various neurobiological processes, such as neurotransmitter systems, neuroplasticity and inflammation, which has been proposed as an underlying mechanism for anxiety and depression.

This systematic review and meta-analysis provides the first meta-analytical evidence that ω-3 PUFA could help reduce the symptoms of anxiety, not just through a potential placebo effect.