Fish oil supplements could be used to help treat clinical depression in adults, researchers report.

Scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago made the discovery while studying the impacts of different medications on patient-derived stem cells. 

The team analyzed skin cells from two types of adult patients – those who had previously responded to antidepressant treatment and those who had been resistant to medication – and the cells were then converted into stem cells and developed into nerve cells. 

And when fish oil was tested, cells from both groups responded in a similar way to that of prescription medication.

Professor Mark Rasenick, the principal investigator of the study, said the discovery would hopefully enable future research to determine how the brain works, and why some people respond better to antidepressant medication than others. 

“It was also exciting to find scientific evidence that fish oil – an easy-to-get, natural product – may be an effective treatment for depression,” he explained. 

He also revealed that scientists studying depression should be focusing on glial cells in the brain, which surround neurons and provide essential insulation and support. 

“We saw that fish oil was acting, in part, on glial cells, not neurons,” Professor Rasenick added. “For many years, scientists have paid scant attention to glia – a type of brain cell that surrounds neurons – but there is increasing evidence that glia may play a role in depression. Our study suggests that glia may also be important for antidepressant action.”

Full study results have been published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.


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