PUFAs for Anxiety?

PUFAs for Anxiety?

Do you know what a PUFA is?

I assumed at first that this was a new term for an asthma inhaler – new terminology does keep sneaking up on me like that! However, it turns out that PUFA stands for omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids – those things in fish oil that are supposed to be so good for your arthritis and your cardiovascular system.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

We stopped talking about these omega-3 fatty acids in depression some time ago as the accumulating evidence did not support their usefulness for depression, but a recently published meta-analysis in JAMA Network seems to indicate that PUFAs might actually be useful for symptoms of anxiety.

The researchers say that it is too early to know for sure just yet and that more work needs to be done to support its efficacy (don’t you hate it when they say that) but it is possible that these essential nutrients may be useful in anxiety. We certainly do know that they are very important in the brain, being present in high concentration in brain cell membranes. We don’t really know for sure what they do but they could be important in mediating inflammation, in neurotransmitter systems or even in neuroplasticity.

The meta-analysis:

You will see in the article that the researchers found 19 relevant clinical trials, 16 of which were placebo controlled, with more than 1200 participants in total. Participants had a wide range of anxiety symptoms and the review concluded that “omega-3 PUFAs might help to reduce the symptoms of clinical anxiety.”

It’s early days but it’s very heartening to think that we may be able to help relieve anxiety without resorting to side-effect ridden and addictive pharmaceuticals, especially in those for whom CBT is just not enough. 


Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.