Food and Behaviour Research

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Adjunctive low-dose docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) for major depression: An open-label pilot trial

Smith DJ, Sarris J, Dowling N, O'Connor M, Ng CH (2017) Nutr Neurosci.  2017 Feb 22:1-5.  doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2017.1283128. [Epub ahead of print] 

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Whilst the majority of evidence supports the adjunctive use of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in improving mood, to date no study exists using low-dose docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) alone as an adjunctive treatment in patients with mild to moderate major depressive disorder (MDD).


A naturalistic 8-week open-label pilot trial of low-dose DHA, (260 mg or 520 mg/day) in 28 patients with MDD who were non-responsive to medication or psychotherapy, with a Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D) score of greater than 17, was conducted. Primary outcomes of depression, clinical severity, and daytime sleepiness were measured.


After 8 weeks, 54% of patients had a ≥50% reduction on the HAM-D, and 45% were in remission (HAM-D ≤ 7). The eta-squared statistic (0.59) indicated a large effect size for the reduction of depression (equivalent to Cohen's d of 2.4). However confidence in this effect size is tempered due to the lack of a placebo. The mean score for the Clinical Global Impression Severity Scale was significantly improved by 1.28 points (P < 0.05). Despite a significant reduction in the HAM-D score for middle insomnia (P = 0.02), the reduction in excessive daytime somnolence on the total Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS) did not reach significance. No significant adverse reactions to DHA were found.


Within the major limits of this open-label pilot study, the results suggest that DHA may provide additional adjunctive benefits in patients with mild- to -moderate depression.