According to the National Institutes of Health, COVID-19 may lead to a number of symptoms related to brain and mental health. The team at Examine.com, a Canadian company that runs an online encyclopedia covering health, nutrition and supplementation, conducted a retrospective study that looked at whether omega-3s are associated with fewer post-COVID-19 mental health conditions.
"COVID-19 infection can have long lasting problems, and these problems are often associated once you get infected with COVID with inflammation in the body that stays high over time," explained Gregory Lopez, PharmD, research lead at Examine.
"And so you have these neuropsychiatric symptoms along with co-current inflammation. And so the researchers who did this study thought to themselves, ‘hey, what is something out there that has some evidence of hitting some of these neuropsychiatric problems as well as possibly hitting inflammation?’ And one such thing is omega-3 fatty acids. So omega-3 fatty acids have evidence that they decrease inflammation in the body, both animal and a little bit of human evidence suggest that this is the case."
The year-long retrospective cohort study examined a total of 33,908 adults (average age of 47; 61% women, 39% men) who had tested positive for COVID-19 between March 2020 and July 2022.
The participants who reported using omega-3 fatty acids in the 6 months prior to a COVID-19 diagnosis were categorized as the omega-3 group, and those who did not report using omega-3s were categorized as the non-omega-3 group. The outcomes were assessed over a follow-up period of 90 days to one year.
The analyses were adjusted for confounders, including demographic characteristics, socioeconomic status and comorbidity conditions; furthermore, subgroup analyses based on age, sex, vaccination status and race were also conducted.
In the omega-3 group, the risk of developing psychiatric sequelae was 20% lower than the non-omega-3 group. Specifically, the omega-3 group had a lower risk of depression (–17%), anxiety (–17%) and insomnia (–32%).
Furthermore, the omega-3 group had a lower risk of cough and myalgia compared to the non-omega-3 group, whereas there was no difference in the risk for other COVID-19-related conditions.
In the subgroup analyses, the risk for psychiatric sequelae was lower in the omega-3 group of adults aged 18 to 59 (but not 60 or older) and in adults with less than two doses of the vaccine (but not those with two or more doses).
"There are a lot of nuances in this paper, like for instance they tried to get people who are relatively healthy," Lopez said. "They didn't include people who had hypertension or type 2 diabetes and the reasoning for this was the majority of cases of COVID-19 are mild, and they wanted people at low risk of getting severe COVID.
"But the thing is they didn't screen out other kinds of diseases like COPD, for instance, which has an increased risk of severe COVID and a bunch of other diseases that seem to increase the risk of severe COVID. So I was left with a few questions about the methodology there which also cast some doubt on these results."
At the end of the day, Lopez remains skeptic.
“This study combined with background knowledge makes me think there's a possibility that this could be real, that taking fish oil or other kinds of omega-3s could be productive," he said. "It could be a good way to guard against kind of future problems if you get infected with COVID, but I'm not highly confident of it. I don't think the evidence says for sure this will work. I think taking it with a grain of salt is necessary."
Dec 2023 examine.com/research-feed/study/dBwWZ1/?requirelogin=1
"Are omega-3s associated with fewer post-COVID-19 mental health conditions?"
Authors: B. Holmer et al.