An analysis of 19 clinical studies shows that an association exists between omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid treatment (PUFAs) and a reduced severity of anxiety symptoms. Researchers have concluded that omega-3 PUFAs may be clinically effective in treating anxiety symptoms, according to a study published by JAMA Network.

Patients with anxiety experience inappropriate and amplified feelings of fear, causing distress and impairing one's daily life. Anxiety is currently the most common psychiatric symptom, with 1 in 3 adults reporting an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Anxiety is often comorbid with depressive disorders. The combination of these debilitating disorders can reduce a patient’s health-related quality of life, and increase their risk of mortality, according to the study.

Treatment options for patients with anxiety include cognitive behavioral therapy or pharmaceuticals, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Some patients with anxiety, however, may be hesitant to take medications with potential adverse effects or participate in costly and time consuming behavioral therapy. Therefore, novel treatment options for patients with anxiety and comorbid medical conditions are necessary for wider access to treatment, according to the study.

Eicosatetraenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), 2 essential nutrients found in omega-3, may reduce anxiety and depression in patients with physical medical conditions. A previous study on rats suggests that a diet high in EPA could prevent anxiety symptoms and normalize dopamine levels. Another study in mice found that a high ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 PUFAs decreased behaviors that resulted from contextual fear, according to the study.

Several clinical trials have found a correlation between omega-3 PUFAs and a reduction in anxiety under stressful circumstances, and controlled studies have shown that patients with anxiety disorders often have low omega-3 PUFA levels. Other studies have shown possible therapeutic effects of EPA on post-traumatic stress disorder, and both anger and anxiety in patients recovering from substance abuse. Additional clinical trials have shown the effectiveness in omega-3 PUFAs in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression in patients with acute myocardial infarctions and reducing inflammation and anxiety in young adults undergoing a major stress event.

While these studies have all shown promise, many of them were too small to show conclusive results, according to the study. The researchers hypothesized that omega-3 PUFAs may have anxiolytic effects, meaning they reduce the symptoms of anxiety, and they are examining clinical trial results of patients with severe anxiety symptoms to determine whether omega-3 PUFAs are an effective anxiolytic. The examination consisted of 19 clinical trials that included 2240 participants from 11 countries, according to the study. The meta-analysis of these clinical studies revealed an association between omega-3 PUFAs and reduced anxiety. It could not be determined if this association was the result of a placebo effect, or some associations of treatment.

The researchers also concluded that omega-3 PUFAs may be more effective in reducing anxiety among patients with specific clinical diagnoses compared to patients experiencing anxiety symptoms without a specific condition. The authors note that omega-3 PUFAs show potential as an effective treatment for anxiety, but further research needs to be done.


Su K, Tseng P, Lin P, et al. Association of Use of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids With Changes in Severity of Anxiety Symptoms: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Network Open. 2018;1(5):e182327. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.2327. Accessed September 27, 2018