Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, C20:5 (n-3)) is a fatty acid found in fish oil. Evidence suggests that fish oil may have antidepressant effects, and this may relate to the presence of EPA. Studies have investigated the effects of EPA on depression and shown that it may be as effective as the pharmaceutical antidepressant fluoxetine at treating depression in human subjects. Studies have investigated the effects of EPA on stress hormone release and found that EPA can significantly lower blood cortisol levels. As cortisol is thought to be the main trigger of the mood changes associated with depression, this could be one mechanism by which EPA is effective against depression. In this regard 1000 mg of EPA has been shown to be as effective as 20 mg of fluoxetine at reducing serum cortisol levels after 8 weeks of treatment. Further, EPA is also effective at lowering plasma corticosterone levels, the main stress hormone in animals. Therefore EPA may be an effective nutrient at lowering cortisol levels in humans, and this suggests that fish oils may possess significant anti-stress effects.
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