Certain places intimidate the heck out of me, like the supplement aisle at any health food store. Whoa.
I just wish I had some Harvard expert telling me whether Omega-3s, St. John’s Word, SAM3 and folate would help my depression.
Voila! Next thing I know I’m at a fundraiser for psychiatric research at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital in this oceanfront mansion in Palm Beach, (also very intimidating) listening to Dr. Marlene P. Freeman, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and expert in Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Lord knows I wasn’t there as a philanthropist. I’m a journalist – I used my last buck to tip the valet. But every year Michelle and Howard Kessler, who own the intimating, oceanfront mansion, invite me to their fundraiser because they believe – regardless of how much money you have or do not have – “no family goes untouched.”
Since these are the heavy hitters in the world of philanthropy, Mass General brings in its best researchers – like Dr. Freeman. Among all of Dr. Freeman’s titles, positions and research, she chaired the American Psychiatric Association’s Task Force on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) – which focused on the potential benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids, St. John’s Wort, SAMe, folate, light therapy, acupuncture, exercise and mindfulness based psychotherapies in treating psychiatric disorders.
First of all, it’s pretty cool that the APA is taking CAM so seriously. Second, this whole event could not have happened at a better time because I am about to run out of my Omega-3 supplement and was wondering whether it was worth investing in some more.
And the answer is…yes.
According to Dr. Freeman’s presentation, meta-analysis of Omega-3 fatty acids, studied as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA but not the plant source alpha-linolenic acid) show benefit over placebo for unipolar and bipolar depression. Meta-analysis pools together the results of all available clinical trials because the size of individual clinical trials is too small to reliably draw a conclusion.
What does this mean? It means that Omega-3 fatty acids are important to neurocognitive development. It means that adults should consume fish, which is high in Omega-3 fatty acids at least twice a week. Dr. Freeman also recommends that patients with mood, impulse-control or psychotic disorders should consume 1 g of EPA + DHA daily. In addition, supplements may be useful in patients with mood disorders between 1-9 g per day but doses greater than 3 g per day should be monitored by a physician.
And now, a word about B vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamin B6 negates the effects of Omega-3s, Dr. Freeman said, who also recommended against taking B vitamins 3, 6 and 9.
As for the other complementary and alternative medicines:
The best news of all – at least for me – is that Dr. Freeman believes we “desperately need research in Complementary and Alternative Medicine.” Amen.
So, let us walk down the supplement aisle with confidence! Let us eat fish and get off the couch and exercise! Let us take Dr. Freeman’s advice and most of all, let us be happy!
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Last reviewed: 28 Feb 2012