Monday, November 08, 2004

It Is Good to Eat Fish, But...

If you like to eat fish, but are afraid of mercury, then you have a problem. On the other hand, if you are one of the people who thinks that mercury is ok, that it is more important to prevent gay marriage that to prevent brain damage in children, by all means, go ahead and eat all the fish you want. I suppose another way of putting that is the old saying: 'Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he and his family will have brain damage for a lifetime.'

I am trying to get back to writing about science. Really.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Good For The Heart, And (maybe) Good For The Brain

New York, NY (November 1, 2004) -- There is mounting evidence that a diet containing omega-3 fatty acids, already known to help prevent cardiovascular disease, may also prevent depression. In light of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)'s recent ruling that antidepressants will be labeled with a "black box" warning about the drugs' higher potential suicide risk in children, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center nutrition experts call for further study of the mental health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

"Given recent findings of serious risks linked with antidepressants, we should prioritize the study of natural antidepressants contained in dietary sources -- specifically, omega-3 fatty acids, found most abundantly in fish and seafood," says Dr. Barbara Levine, associate professor of nutrition in clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and director of the DHA Information Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell. Dr. Levine has been studying DHA (docosahexaenoic acid -- a component of omega-3s) and its effects on lowering triglycerides and raising HDL (high-density lipoproteins) in overweight and obese patients with metabolic syndrome.

"Omega-3 consumption in the U.S. is lower than in any other country; the U.S. also has one of the highest depression rates in the world," says Dr. Jeffrey Borer, chief of the division of cardiovascular pathophysiology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell and Gladys & Roland Harriman Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. "New research has linked omega-3 consumption inversely with incidence of neurological and immune disorders. However, further research among all age groups and populations is necessary in order to confirm these findings and to further educate the public." [...]

The article goes on to recite the reasons to think that fish oil may be helpful for persons with some degree of clinically-significant depression. Based upon my casual observations, it does seem to help some people. The size of the benefit is not very great, compared to the usual treatments; but for persons with mild depression, it might do enough. The other situation, where it seems to help, is in patients with treatment-resistant depression: those who may get some benefit from standard treatment, but do not attain remission. For them, anything that can help, even a little bit, is worthwhile.

As the title of the article (..."And (maybe) Good For The Brain") implies, the evidence for benefit is not really conclusive yet. I would not suggest that people go out and spend a lot of money, or worse, abandon those treatments that have been validated empirically. But fish oil really does appear to be one of those things that might help and can't hurt.