Shockingly Simple: Aspirin, Advil, Fish Oil Effectively and Safely Help Curb Depression

Aspirin, Tylenol and Omega-3 Fish Oil

Anti-inflammatory agents, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, statins, and antibiotics, can safely and effectively curb the symptoms of major depression, finds a pooled analysis of the available evidence, published online October 28, 2019, in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

And the effects are even stronger when these agents are added on to standard antidepressant treatment, the results show.

Around a third of people who are clinically depressed don’t respond well to current drug and talking therapies, and drug side effects are relatively common.

An emerging body of evidence suggests that inflammation contributes to the development of major depression, but the results of clinical trials using various anti-inflammatory agents to treat the condition have proved inconclusive.

The researchers therefore set out to review the available evidence and pool the data to see if anti-inflammatory agents work better than dummy (placebo) treatment either alone or when used as add-on therapy to standard antidepressant treatment.

Anti-inflammatory agents included: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs); omega 3 fatty acids; drugs that curb production of inflammatory chemicals (cytokine inhibitors); statins; steroids; antibiotics (minocyclines); a drug used to treat sleep disorders (modafinil); and N-acetyl cysteine, known as NAC, and used to loosen the excess phlegm of cystic fibrosis and COPD and also taken as an antioxidant supplement.

Ibuprophen NSAID

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a class of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that reduce pain, decrease fever, and decrease inflammation. Ibuprofen (pictured here) and naproxen are common OTC NSAIDs. Advil and Motrin are common brands of ibuprofen and Aleve is a common brand of naproxen available without a prescription.

The researchers trawled research databases to find suitable studies published up to January 2019. They found 30 relevant randomized controlled trials, involving 1610 people, which reported changes in depression scales. They pooled the data from 26 of these studies.

The pooled data analysis suggested that anti-inflammatory agents were better than placebo and enhanced the effects of standard antidepressant treatment.

These agents were 52% more effective in reducing symptom severity, overall, and 79% more effective in eliminating symptoms than placebo, as measured by an average fall in depression scales of 55.

More detailed analysis indicated that NSAIDs, omega 3 fatty acids, statins, and minocyclines were the most effective at reducing major depressive symptoms compared with placebo.

“The results of this systematic review suggest that anti-inflammatory agents play an antidepressant role in patients with major depressive disorder and are reasonably safe.” — Researchers Conclusion

And the effects were even greater when one or other of these agents was added to standard antidepressant treatment.

But anti-inflammatory agents didn’t seem to improve quality of life, although this might have been because of the small number of studies which looked at this aspect, say the researchers.

No major side effects were evident, although there were some gut symptoms among those taking statins and NACs, and the trials lasted only 4 to 12 weeks, so it wasn’t possible to track side effects over the longer term.

The researchers also point out that not all studies tracked changes in depression scores over the entire study period. The depression scales used in the studies differed, and those involving statins and minocyclines included only small numbers of patients.

Nevertheless, they conclude: “The results of this systematic review suggest that anti-inflammatory agents play an antidepressant role in patients with major depressive disorder and are reasonably safe.”

Reference: “Efficacy and safety of anti-inflammatory agents for the treatment of major depressive disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials” by Shuang Bai, Wenliang Guo, Yangyang Feng, Hong Deng, Gaigai Li, Hao Nie, Guangyu Guo, Haihan Yu, Yang Ma, Jiahui Wang, Shiling Chen, Jie Jing, Jingfei Yang, Yingxin Tang and Zhouping Tang, 28 October 2019, Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.
DOI: 10.1136/jnnp-2019-320912

Update 10/29/19: Tylenol / acetaminophen references in the title and article have been replaced with Advil / ibuprofen.

5 Comments on "Shockingly Simple: Aspirin, Advil, Fish Oil Effectively and Safely Help Curb Depression"

  1. I have been taking aspirin, tylenol,& fish oil for at least 25 years.I also take blood press meds, liptor.& a multivitamin & calcium. I have been on liptor for yrs.I am 65 years old.

  2. Tylenol is not an anti-inflammatory. It’s only an anti pyretic and analgesic. Tsk. Tsk.

    • As NaNa said, Tylenol (acetaminophen or paracetamol) is not anti-inflammatory. NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. You should talk to your doctor before adding any medicines to your treatment regimen, especially since NSAIDs can cause stomach problems over time and increase bleeding risk.

  3. Sylvia M. Crawford | October 29, 2019 at 9:16 pm | Reply

    I have been using this combination for the the last 20 years. Not new news for me. Works like a charm.

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.