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Omega 3 Fats, Depression & Suicide

Research suggests omega-3’s can help mild to severe depression and even schizophrenia.

Long recognised for their heart-health benefits, omega-3 fatty acids are emerging as an effective therapy for mood disorders ranging from major depression, post-natal depression, bipolar disorder and even schizophrenia.
Research suggests that depression rates have risen as our intake of omega-3s has fallen over the past century.

Studies show they help many mood disorders, so could optimal omega-3 fatty acids help reduce depression rates? Many experts think that among people who don’t have a genetic predisposition for mood disorders can benefit.

According to Aware, a voluntary organisation which supports people with depression, 300,000 people in Ireland suffer from depression at any time.

Meanwhile, one in six women experience post-natal depression according to the HSE.  These disorders make daily living a struggle—and can be life-threatening.

Fats for the Brain

The body uses omega-3s in many ways as the human brain is comprised of 60% fat!  Healthy fats are especially important for a well-functioning central nervous system, for the transmission of signals from the eyes to the brain, for heart health and omega 3 fats even promote healthy brain and eye development in babies during pregnancy and breast-feeding.
While your body can synthesise other types of fat from dietary components such as carbohydrates and proteins, it can’t make its own omega-3s. We have to get them from food or fish oil supplements.

Omega-3s has three varieties: 

• Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA):  DHA concentrates in the brain’s gray matter and the retinas in the eyes. DHA becomes part of the membrane of brain cells and work at synapses, where chemical nerve signals jump from cell to cell.

Oily type fish are the best dietary sources; mackerel, salmon, herring, lake trout and tinned sardines, providing 2.5g – 1.5g omega  3 per 100g of fish, ( listed best sources first).   Fresh or frozen are equally beneficial.
• Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): Also found in cold-water fish, EPA seems to have a unique role in maintaining a healthy mood.   It seems to help by reducing inflammatory processes in the brain and by balancing out metabolic pathways.  Many studies show that DHA alone doesn’t work for depression and a little more EPA than DHA is required to get results.

• Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): Found in flaxseed, canola oil, pumpkin seeds and walnuts, and also in small amounts from brussels sprouts, kale, spinach and salad greens, ALA doesn’t directly influence mood management although it may help with heart health.

The American Heart Association recommends people eat fish twice a week, which, on average, would give you the recommended dose of 500 mg of DHA and EPA daily. Unfortunately most adults and children don’t meet these guidelines.

Proven Benefits

An Irish study claimed that consuming plenty of omega-3 fatty acids may offer powerful protection against depression. It is also known that omega-3 fatty acids may also help improve mood in those who already suffer from depression.

In a recent study at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, the effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation was studied in 49 patients with repeated episodes of harming themselves.

In addition to standard psychiatric care, study subjects were randomly assigned to receive 1200 mg EPA plus 900 mg DHA, or placebo, for 12 weeks. At the end of the treatment period, the group receiving omega-3 fatty acids had significantly greater improvements compared with the placebo group in scores for depression, suicidality and daily stresses.

Furthermore, other studies suggest that people who are still depressed despite use of antidepressant medications may have reduced intensity of depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and sexual dysfunction when supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids.

A Canadian study published in the August 2011 issue of the same journal found that a 60/40 ratio of EPA/DHA eased depression somewhat in people with depression who didn’t have anxiety disorders.

Low omega-3 levels are associated with suicide and self-harm. In response to increasing rates of suicide in the military, researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently found that low blood levels of omega-3s were widespread and raised suicide risk by as much as 62%. The study was published online in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.  A previous trial demonstrated that 2 g of omega-3 fatty acids per day reduced suicidal thinking by 45% as well as depression and anxiety scores among individuals with recurrent self-harm,” says researcher Capt Joseph R. Hibbeln, MD, acting chief of the Section of Nutritional Neurosciences at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Laboratory of Membrane Biochemistry and Biophysics in a press release from the NIH.   Hibbeln concluded that “ensuring adequate omega-3 nutritional status is likely to benefit, and unlikely to harm, people at risk for suicide”.

• Omega-3s help menopausal depression. When 20 menopausal women with major depression took 2 g of EPA plus DHA daily for eight weeks, 70% found their mood improved, and 45% found their depression went into remission.

• Omega-3s may also assist with schizophrenia. In a 2010 study published in the February issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, 81 people at extremely high risk of schizophrenia took 1.2 g of omega-3s or a placebo daily for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, 28% in the placebo (dummy) group had developed the disorder compared with 5% in the omega-3s group.

Using Omega-3s Safely

For general good health, adults and kids should get omega-3s by eating two servings of fatty cold-water fish per week, equivalent to about 500 mg per day.  For those that dislike fish, a supplement may be an alternative option.

People with mood disorders may benefit from an additional 1,000 mg of EPA plus DHA daily from fish oil supplements. While low-dose omega-3s are a safe choice for most people, experts say people with depression and other mood disorders shouldn’t try to use this fat as a home remedy for depression. An appointment with a GP should be the first port of call.

Healthful fats shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a replacement for standard antidepressants or for psychotherapy.  A doctor’s approval should be sought before starting any dose of omega-3s if taking medication for mood disorders, or if pregnant, nursing, taking blood thinners, or have a bleeding disorder.

For further information regarding nutrition for mental health & other dietary concerns, contact Nutri Vive  Nutrition Clinic.

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