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Omega 3 & Mental Health

Omega-3 Fats & Depression

Low dietary intake of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is linked to depressed mood, hostility, and impulsive behaviour.

High intake of EPA and DHA fats are associated with increased gray matter volume in brain regions which  control depression and mood.

Human brain tissue is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are of vital importance within cell membranes and in connections between nerves.

The human brain is comprised of 60% fat!!….

…. and omega-3 fatty acids are the fatty acid of choice for the structure of certain parts of brain cell membranes and brain intercellular nerve connections,” Douglas London, MD, Research Associate in Psychiatry at the Psychopharmacological Research Laboratory of McLean Hospital and medical faculty at Harvard Medical School. “Lack of dietary omega-3 forces the brain cells to utilize other fatty acids on hand, resulting in cells constructed with inferior building material,” Dr. London says. “Lack of available omega-3s affects brain function and is associated with cognitive and emotional disorders.

Interesting Irish Study

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, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and sexual dysfunction when supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids.


Dietary Sources of Omega 3:

Oily fish is the best dietary source of Omega 3; mackerel, salmon, herring, lake trout, tinned sardines (providing 2.5g – 1.5g omega 3 per 100g of fish & listed with the best sources first) Fresh or frozen fish are equally as nutritious.

White fish contains much less Omega 3 , but is still a great source of lean protein i.e. cod, whiting, prawns and haddock.  Ensure that tinned fish is contained in brine, spring water or tomato sauce rather than oil.

Alternative sources of Omega 3 to fish include eggs, flaxseeds, walnuts and rapeseed oil.

How Much (in general & for better mental health)?

For general health, aim to have fish twice per week – at least one portion should be from the oily type.  A portion size is aprox 3-4oz of cooked fish. Enjoy as part of a health lunch or main meal for all the family.

Larger amounts of omega 3 may be beneficial according to the Dietitians of Canada in relation to depression and other mood disorders.  The Dietitians report from 2012 recommends supplementation with 1-3g of omega 3 fatty acids as it may help with depressive episodes.  Many studies recommend trialling supplements for a period of 3 months to determine if a benefit is obtainable.

Due to a recent study finding links between high levels of omega 3 in the body and the risk of developing prostate cancer in men, I am cautious to recommend omega 3 supplements containing high amounts of omega 3. Although there is much debate about the methods used in this particular study, I would err on the side of caution and recommend a maximum of 1.5g per day for a trial period of 3 months.

Written by;
Ellen Roche Dietitian at Nutri Vive  Nutrition Clinic
Kilkenny & further clinics in the south east of Ireland

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