OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
& BIPOLAR DISORDER
MDDA-BOSTON LECTURE SERIES
Highlights of a Lecture by Andrew L. Stoll, M.D.,
Director, Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory, McLean
June 9, 1999
Dr. Stoll and his team are at the leading edge of some of
the most promising current research relating to treatment of
bipolar disorder or manic-depressive illness. His
preliminary research indicates that Omega-3 fatty acids,
particularly those found in certain fish oil preparations,
exhibit tremendous mood stabilization effects. While the
current data is preliminary, the research will be repeated
in the near future in order to confirm the initial results.
The results of Dr. Stoll's work to date in this area are
contained in an article in the May 1999 Archives of
Our thanks to Dr. Stoll for letting us share the
following information from his findings.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of essential fatty acid
nutrients derived from marine or plant sources. Based on
preliminary research, Dr. Stoll's team hypothesized that
Omega-3s had many of the same characteristics as effective
mood stabilizers. In a double-blind study of 30 patients who
were recently ill with bipolar disorder, Dr. Stoll found
omega-3 fatty acids from concentrated fish oil to be an
effective antidepressant and mood stabilizer.
Some Facts About Treatment With
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Fish oil is currently the recommended source of
omega-3. Flaxseed oil and perilla oil contain a
different type of omega-3. Several cases of hypomania
have occurred in people taking flaxseed oil, but the
causes remain unclear.
- Omega-3s are usually added to whatever treatment you
are already receiving, there is not yet enough
experience to recommend using them alone in most cases.
There are no known interactions with psychotropic drugs.
- Always discuss the use of any new medications,
over-the-counter or otherwise, with your prescriber.
Drug interaction risks and other dangers can be
associated with any biological treatment.
- A starting dose of 5 grams of omega-3 per day is
currently recommended. Calculate dosage based on the
concentration of omega-3 fatty acids listed on the label
of the fish oil supplement. This can be confusing due to
the variety of different preparations. Focus on the
omega-3 concentration in each capsule.
- The 2 main omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are EPA and
DHA. A high ratio of EPA to DHA is desirable in a fish
oil capsule. Other desirable characteristics include
small capsule size and high omega-3 concentration, which
minimizes the number of capsules required per day.
- Dosage can be split between morning and night or taken
all at night.
- Due to the volume of fish required to achieve the
recommended daily dosage, it is not recommended that you
use eating fish alone as a means of getting your
- You may experience some fishy taste but treatment with
fish oil does not make you smell like fish! Taking the
supplements with orange juice can reduce the fishy
- Do not pursue this treatment if you are taking any
type of blood thinners, even high doses of aspirin, or
any medications or substances that have the same blood
- Do not use cod liver or other fish liver oils to
achieve high omega-3 doses, since it could result in
vitamin A toxicity.
- The omega-3 fatty acids are not a panacea, but in many
cases they do appear to be as effective as conventional
Some Additional Facts About
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Cold-water, oily fish are the
main source of marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids.
- Farm-raised fish that are fed
grain alone may contain little or no Omega-3s. Omega-3s
come from algae that, in the marine food chain, are then
eaten by krill who are in turn eaten by larger fish.
- Omega-3s have numerous health
benefits in other areas, including heart, cholesterol,
rheumatoid arthritis, & Crohn's Disease, to name a
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