Omega-3 fatty acids and supportive psychotherapy for perinatal depression: A randomized placebo-controlled study

Marlene P. Freeman, Melinda Davis, Priti Sinha, Katherine L. Wisner, Joseph R. Hibbeln, Alan J. Gelenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

171 Scopus citations


Background: Perinatal major depressive disorder (MDD), including antenatal and postpartum depression, is common and has serious consequences. This study was designed to investigate the feasibility, safety, and efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids for perinatal depression in addition to supportive psychotherapy. Methods: Perinatal women with MDD were randomized to eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acids (DHA), 1.9g/day, or placebo for 8weeks. A manualized supportive psychotherapy was provided to all subjects. Symptoms were assessed with the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D) and Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) biweekly. Results: Fifty-nine women enrolled; N = 51 had two data collection points that allowed for evaluation of efficacy. Omega-3 fatty acids were well tolerated. Participants in both groups experienced significant decreases in EPDS and HAM-D scores (p < .0001) from baseline. We did not find a benefit of omega-3 fatty acids over placebo. Dietary omega-3 fatty acid intake was low among participants. Limitations: The ability to detect an effect of omega-3 fatty acids may have been limited by sample size, study length, or dose. The benefits of supportive psychotherapy may have limited the ability to detect an effect of omega-3 fatty acids. Conclusions: There was no significant difference between omega-3 fatty acids and placebo in this study in which all participants received supportive psychotherapy. The manualized supportive psychotherapy warrants further study. The low intake of dietary omega-3 fatty acids among participants is of concern, in consideration of the widely established health advantages in utero and in infants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-148
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Sep 2008


  • Depression
  • Omega-3
  • Perinatal
  • Postpartum
  • Pregnancy
  • Supportive psychotherapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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