Could EPA omega-3 supplements help with PTSD?

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock / Devonyu
© iStock / Devonyu
Increased levels of the omega-3 fatty acid EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are associated with a lower severity of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), says a new paper from Japanese researchers.

Writing in the Journal of Affective Disorders​ researchers report that increased levels of EPA+DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA only, and the ratio of EPA to the omega-6 arachidonic acid (AA) were all associated with low PTSD severity symptoms in patients receiving omega-3 supplements at 3 months.

“Anti-inflammation theory of EPA might explain the present findings,”​ explained the researchers, led by Dr Yutaka Matsuoka from the Center for Public Health Sciences at the National Cancer Center Japan. “The observation of positive correlation between change of AA level and PTSD symptoms in the omega-3 arm might be in line with anti-inflammation theory of EPA.

“EPA supplements could be beneficial in preventing both depression and PTSD.”

‘The findings make perfect sense’

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: “The findings from this secondary analysis make perfect sense given recent past research demonstrating a benefit of EPA for depression. Assuming Dr. Matsuoka and his colleagues will be conducting another clinical trial with a high EPA product, I look forward to seeing the results. Every positive study in this area is one more reason to recommend omega-3s for the prevention of PTSD.”

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 new paper details a secondary analysis of data from an earlier randomized, placebo-controlled trial with Japanese accident survivors. 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 for people in omega-3 supplementation group, PTSD severity was correlated with of EPA+DHA, EPA only, and the ratio of EPA to AA. In addition, increasing AA levels were associated with increasing PTSD symptom severity.

“This study suggests the potential efficacy of EPA rather than DHA for minimizing PTSD symptoms after trauma, which is in line with the results from observational studies and depression treatment studies. Meta-analysis of RCTs showed that omega-3 supplements containing a high ratio of EPA had a significant depression treatment effect,”​ wrote the researchers.

“Meta-analysis of observational studies has shown that inflammatory markers such as interleukin 6, interleukin 1beta, and interferon-gamma levels were higher in the PTSD patients than in healthy control.

“If we administered EPA-rich supplement in our previous trial, the finding might produce a different result. A further clinical trial using EPA-rich supplements for secondary prevention of PTSD is needed to confirm these findings.”

Source: Journal of Affective Disorders
2016, Volume 205, Pages 289-291, doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2016.08.005
“Change in blood levels of eicosapentaenoic acid and posttraumatic stress symptom: A secondary analysis of data from a placebo-controlled trial of omega3 supplements”
Authors: Y.J. Matsuoka et al.

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