A growing number of observational and epidemiological studies have suggested that major depression is associated with reduced dietary intake and/or cellular levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Indeed, it has been previously shown that individuals suffering from major depression are more likely to have low levels of EPA in both plasma and red blood cell phospholipids but it has not been clear if these are the result of depression or whether these deficiencies give rise to depressive symptoms.
Whilst the use of omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of depression is not new, a recent double blind, randomised trial published in March 2008 in the New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry  has shown that EPA taken alongside Prozac is therapeutically more effective in treating the symptoms of depression than taking Prozac alone. The study recruited a total of 60 outpatients diagnosed with major depressive disorder who were randomly allocated to receive daily doses of either 1000mg EPA or 20mg Prozac, or a combination of the two. Severity of depression was assessed using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) as the primary outcome measure and individuals were assessed every two weeks over an eight-week period.
Using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS), these patients originally showed an average score of 15 out of the 17-item HDRS. The study showed that Prozac and EPA appeared to be equally effective in controlling depressive symptoms, based on a decrease in HDRS scores, while the two combined showed significantly better results. This study further supports that fact that simply by supplementing with a highly purified product containing EPA we can directly influence our health and our overall feeling of well-being.
Whilst the exact mechanism of the role of EPA in the treatment of depression is still unclear, there are certain hypotheses that are beginning to unfold. Prozac is an antidepressant that falls under the category of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or SSRI. Low serotonin levels are a symptom, rather than a cause, of depression and SSRIs work by increase the levels of serotonin by inhibiting its reuptake and therefore increasing the level of serotonin in the blood. EPA has also been shown to block the uptake of serotonin by cells and therefore may work in a similar fashion to that of Prozac. In addition, individuals with depression have been shown to have increased levels of substances called inflammatory cytokines resulting in an increased state of inflammation that may be associated with symptoms such as fatigue, fever, lack of sleep, pain, and aching. EPA is converted within the body to anti-inflammatory eicosanoids and so by increasing EPA levels the body can help buffer these inflammatory agents, and help to alleviate symptoms. Interestingly, DHA – another long chain fatty acid found in the majority of fish oil supplements – has been found to increase the levels of these inflammatory cytokines which may explain why combinations of EPA and DHA are not as efficient in the treatment of depression as that of EPA alone.
Dr Alex Richardson, neurophysiologist at the University of Oxford who runs the food and behaviour research charity FAB Research (www.fabresearch.org.uk), welcomed the study’s findings: “According to WHO, depression now makes the single biggest contribution to the overall burden of ill-health in developed countries like the UK,” she said.
“A number of trials have already shown that omega-3 from fish oils (and particularly EPA) can benefit patients with depression or bipolar disorder. This is why the American Psychiatric Association has already recommended treatment with at least 1g/day of EPA and DHA for these conditions – but as an addition to standard treatment, not as an alternative.”
Vegepa is a patented formulation of completely natural long-chain omega fatty acids. It contains a unique ratio of ultra-pure EPA (the omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid) and cold-pressed, non-raffinated, virgin evening primrose oil (containing the omega-6 gamma-linolenic acid). As such, Vegepa combines the benefits that both these natural substances bring to the body.
Fatty acids play an important part in the functioning of every living cell in the body. Specifically they may help the body in several ways including: improving the circulatory system, aiding concentration, maintaining a well-balanced state of mind and keeping joints in good condition.
 Jazayeri, Shima; Tehrani-Doost, Mehdi; Keshavarz, Seyed A.; Hosseini, Mostafa; Djazayery, Abolghassem; Amini, Homayoun; Jalali, Mahmoud and Peet, Malcolm (2008) Comparison of therapeutic effects of omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid and fluoxetine, separately and in combination, in major depressive order, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 42:3, 192 – 198.