- On June 5, 2019
Depression and anxiety are mood disorders that can impact everyday activities like eating, sleeping, and communicating with others. Rates of depression are much higher in the US compared to others countries such as China and many scientists believe there is a link between these disorders and omega-3 intake. Countries who have a higher intake of fish tend to have lower rates of anxiety and depression. Is it possible that a treatment option for depression and anxiety could start with a few dietary changes? In this article, we’re fishing for answers to see if fish could be the answer.
What is omega-3?
Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fat that we must get from our diet. There are three main types of omega-3: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). ALA can be obtained from plant sources such as nuts, seeds, flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils. EPA and DHA can be found in animal sources such as fatty fish like tuna and salmon. The FDA suggests limiting fish intake to 2-3 servings per week due to the mercury content but other sources of omega-3 are fair game.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for forming cellular membranes as well as their neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties; deficiencies in this nutrient have been reported in many brain disorders such as ADHD, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and autism. Omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA are needed for brain function and development and act as an anti-inflammatory agent to protect against mood disorders exacerbated by neuroinflammation.
What does research say about omega-3’s effect on mood disorders?
There have been studies conducted to test the effect of omega-3 on brain and mood disorders. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation has been linked to improvement in cognitive function in older adults and behavior problems in children with ADHD. Studies suggest that adequate omega-3 intake may improve depression in adults and children. EPA and DHA, specifically, may be beneficial for these symptoms. Studies have shown that omega-3 intake benefits depression related to pregnancy and menopause as well as psychological conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Additionally, research has found a correlation between low omega-3 levels and suicidal thoughts. One trial found that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation reduced suicidal thinking by 45% as well as depression and anxiety scores in test subjects.
A review of 19 clinical trials found that omega-3 treatment may be effective in treating anxiety in clinical settings. Findings suggested that treatment in participants with clinical conditions had stronger results than in subclinical populations. Another review looked at effects of DHA and EPA supplementation on substance abusers and found that an increase in EPA was correlated with lower anxiety symptoms while an increase in DHA was correlated with lower anger symptoms. Another study found that supplementation of EPA and DHA improved anxiety in students compared to those not taking the supplement.
Overall, research seems to suggest that omega-3 intake improves symptoms related to depression and anxiety in different populations but the mechanism in which this happens is still not well understood. Additionally, it is important to note that supplementation should not replace depression or anxiety medication without supervision from your doctor.
If you or someone you know wants additional help or information regarding depression or anxiety, helpful resources are listed below.
Call 911 for emergency services
Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TYY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)
Written by: Taylor Wooten
Dietetic Intern, Southern Regional Medical Center
Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics, University of Florida
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). FDA and EPA Issue Fish Consumption Advice. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/cfsan-constituent-updates/fda-and-epa-issue-fish-consumption-advice
- Depression Basics. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml#pub6
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Mood Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/011012p22.shtml
- Osher, Y., & Belmaker, R. (2009). Omega-3 fatty acids in depression: A review of three studies. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics,15(2), 128-133.
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- Su, K., Tseng, P., Lin, P., Okubo, R., Chen, T., Chen, Y., & Matsuoka, Y. J. (2018). Association of Use of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids With Changes in Severity of Anxiety Symptoms. JAMA Network Open,1(5). doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.2327