Omega-3s shows potential for PTSD: Study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Image © iStockPhoto Devonyu
Image © iStockPhoto Devonyu

Related tags Essential fatty acid Omega-3 fatty acid

People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may benefits from daily omega-3 supplements, says a new study from Japan.

PTSD is known to product psychophysiological symptoms such as a pounding heart, but new data from 83 Japanese accident survivors indicated that DHA-rich omega-3 supplements may reduce the increases in heart rate associated with PTSD.

“The [heart rate]-reducing action of omega-3 PUFAs [polyunsaturated fatty acids] has potential benefits for those at high risk of PTSD, aside from the psychophysiological symptoms themselves, for two reasons: (1) Fast [heart rate] is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and mortality, whereas PTSD is a risk factor for CVD and mortality; and (2) omega-3 PUFAs are effective for other psychiatric disorders (e.g., depression) and are highly comorbid with PTSD,”​ wrote the researchers in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Outstanding research

Commenting independently on the study, Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), told us: "Despite the limitations mentioned by the authors, the results suggest that EPA/DHA may have a profound benefit for individuals suffering from PTSD.

"At the last GOED Exchange, Dr Matsuoka (last author) honored attendees with a presentation detailing his work in this area. This is not an easy subject area to investigate and Dr Matsuoka should be commended for his outstanding research."

Study details

Military interest in omega-3 is nothing new, with a November 2014 edition of Military Medicine​ focusing on the fatty acids as “nutritional armor”.

Interest has focused on several different endpoints, including improving mood and reducing suicide rates among serving and ex-military personnel, speeding recovery from traumatic brain injury, and improving reaction times of fighter pilots. 

The researchers recruited Japanese accident survivors to participate in their randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either placebo or omega-3 supplements providing 1,470 mg of DHA and 147 mg of EPA per day for 12 weeks.

Results showed that omega-3 supplementation reduced heart rate during both rest and script-driven imagery, compared with placebo, whereas heart rates at the start of the study were comparable between the groups.

“The exact mechanism underlying the reduction of elevated heart rate (as psychophysiological symptoms of PTSD) by omega-3 PUFAs is unknown,” ​wrote the researchers. “However, the lack of group differences in [skin conductance, another psychophysiological symptom of PTSD] suggest little involvement of sympathetic nerve activity. Therefore, if the autonomic nerve system was involved, reduced heart rate would be highly likely due to an increase in vagal activity. This view is consistent with previous findings that omega-3 PUFAs increases vagal activity and that patients with PTSD show decreased vagal activity.

“[P]ost-trauma supplementation of omega-3 PUFAs could be effective for the secondary prevention of psychophysiological symptoms of PTSD,” ​they concluded

Source: Journal of Affective Disorders
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2016.05.054
“Effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on psychophysiological symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in accident survivors: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial”
Authors: K. Matsumura, et al.

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