A new review1 published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences sought to examine whether omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may reduce symptoms commonly associated with menopausal transition, including depressive symptoms. The review, which ultimately included 16 published studies on omega-3 intake and hot flashes, depression, and cognitive disorders in menopausal women, found that omega-3 consumption may have a slight beneficial effect on menopause and depressive symptoms; however, the results reported were scattered and inconclusive, leading researchers to conclude that further research is necessary.
As the authors write in the review, depression is a much more common mental health concern in women than in men. In fact, they state, women may be as much as 2.5 times more likely to suffer from major depression than men. Women who are currently undergoing menopause may be even more likely to experience symptoms of depression, they add, due to diminishing estrogen levels.
“Estrogens are also involved in the neurotransmitter systems implicated in the pathophysiology of depression,” the authors explain, “acting as serotonergic agonists/modulators by increasing receptor binding sites, synthesis, and uptake both in animal models and in postmenopausal women.” They add that because of this, women may be able to improve perimenopausal–related depression, as well as depressive symptoms, using estrogen therapy. But while hormone therapy is considered the preferred method for attenuating menopause symptoms, many women prefer alternative therapies. Thus, in the current review, the authors sought to evaluate whether omega-3s, which they say are “one of the most-employed alternative therapies,” possess benefits for depressive and menopause symptoms.
After reviewing all existing data on omega-3s and menopause published prior to April 2018, the researchers observed a few trends. First, some of the existing data did suggest that omega-3 fatty acids, with or without another intervention, may help to reduce menopause symptoms. However, they write, existing study data indicate that it may ultimately be more beneficial to first address whether a subject has an omega-3 deficiency. If an omega-3 deficiency is present, supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids could be more effective in addressing menopause symptoms.
Two of the studies consulted reported no effect of omega-3 consumption on hot flashes and depressive symptoms, but the researchers state that this may have been a product of study limitations. Some of those limitations include the heterogeneity of the methods used in the original studies, selection criteria, or a combination of the two. In addition, many of the original studies included neuropsychological tests and scales. The authors write that results of those tests are not adjusted across multiple tests, and thus, cannot be generalized in the present review.
“In conclusion,” they write, “a beneficial role of [omega-3 fatty acids] in hot flashes, and depressive and cognitive symptoms related to menopausal transition is still far from conclusive.”
The added that “the lack of consistency across studies that have explored the [omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids] effects in perimenopausal disorders implies the necessity of larger prospective interventional clinical studies to elucidate the subtypes (EPA or DHA, or both types) and the therapeutic dose of [omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids] required in these kinds of perimenopausal disorders.”
1. Ciappolino V et al., “N-3 polyunsatured fatty acids in menopausal transition: a systematic review of depressive and cognitive disorders with accompanying vasomotor symptoms,” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 19, no. 7 (June 23, 2018): 1849