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Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Depression

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Omega-3 fatty acids are essential that enhance numerous health benefits, including depression. Explore the article to learn how they help fight depression.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Vishal Anilkumar Gandhi

Published At December 28, 2022
Reviewed AtDecember 7, 2023

Introduction

Depression is a general condition affecting about 3.8 percent of the world's population. Approximately two hundred and eighty million people undergo depression. As depression is a common illness, and People of the world consume an abundance of fish and fish oils, researchers have studied for over ten years the effects of fish on depression and have proven it. Fish and marine algae are the typical sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega 3 fatty acids, known as omega-3 oil, are polyunsaturated fatty acids PUFA, as their chemical structure exhibits more than one double bond.Omega-3 fatty acids are essential substances that benefit the metabolism and human physiology; when taken in or administered into the system, they help the metabolism and human physiology. They play a significant role in reducing the risk of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and depression as well. They are obtained only through diet or supplements as Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids fail to synthesize in our bodies.

What Are the Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are in three following forms.

  • Alpha-linolenic acid or ALA

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA

  • Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA.

What Are the Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Alpha-linolenic acid, ADA, is found in plants and plant-based oils. Familiar sources of Alpha-linolenic acid are the following.

  • Walnuts

  • Chia seeds

  • Soybean oil

  • Flaxseed

  • Canola oil

EPA and DHA are found in algae and fish. Omega-3 fatty acids accumulate in fish as they eat marine algae. The sources are fish, fish oil, cod liver oil, krill oil, and algae oil.

What Includes The Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

  • Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke.

Omega-3 fatty acids relatively lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension. They also reduce the heart rate and the risks of certain circulatory malfunctions like varicose veins. However, they do not possess any changes in abnormal heart rhythm or heart failures. Moreover, omega-3 fatty acids lower the triglycerides level in the blood and hence prevent the person from cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

  • Cancer.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are considered immune nutrients and are used for nutritional therapy in cancer patients. In addition, combining chemotherapy and omega-3 fatty acids with palliative care cures cancer.

  • Depression.

Researchers have identified that diet and supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids reduced the grades of depression, but there is still a bias in publication.

  • Asthma.

As omega-3 fatty acids help in inflammation and emphasize the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs, they can be an asthma depleter.

  • Other Benefits.

Fish-based supplements limit stiffness and joint pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Omega-3 fatty acids also benefit children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, by enhancing their learning and comprehension. They also aid in the vision and neurologic development of neonates. Eicosapentaenoic acid, EPA and Docosahexaenoic acid, DHA Help against inflammation by lowering the inflammation markers such as interleukin-6 or IL-6, tumor necrosis factor or TNF A, and C-reactive protein. Neurologic conditions like Alzheimer's disease, dementia, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

What Is the Daily Requirement of Omega-3 Fatty Acid?

According to United States Food and Drug Administration(FDA), consuming omega-3 fatty acids not more than 3g is safe. 3000 to 5000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day appears safe.

What Are the Complications or Side Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

  • Short-term adverse effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, stomach discomfort, or joint pain.

  • Long-term PUFAs may increase cancer risk due to their oxidation products or added vitamin E.

  • Tell the medical practitioner about your medications. Omega 3 fatty acids, when combined with blood thinners such as anticoagulants and antiplatelets, cause bleeding.

Now, take a peek at depression and how omega-3 fatty acids help fight it.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a common mood disorder in which a person undergoes constant feelings of sadness, accompanied by guilt, lethargy, and seldom irritability. Data shows that hundreds of millions worldwide suffer from depression, a leading cause of disability.

The symptoms of depression are mentioned below.

  • Mood swings as mild, moderate, and severe

  • Lethargy

  • Anxiety

  • Difficulty in concentrating

  • Less amusement in life

  • Fatigue

  • Loss of interest and pleasure

Medications like antidepressants, SSRIs, and anxiolytics are usually prescribed by your medical practitioner. However, due to the recent high prevalence of depression, for over ten years, medical researchers have been studying the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids on depression and other mental and behavioral disorders. Though some conflicts are going on, they are pursuing further research to prove more.

What Dosage Is Beneficial for Depression?

For depression, the dose of omega-3 fatty acids ranges between one gram and ten grams per day. Therefore, the most prescribed dose is one to two grams daily, a combination of EPA and DHA. In patients with bipolar disorder, omega-3 fatty acids should be cautiously taken with a prescribed mood stabilizer.

How Do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Help Fight Depression?

As we all know, the primary function of omega-3 fatty acids is to regulate one's metabolism. Omega-3 fatty acids alter the cell structure of each cell membrane. So, they easily carry through cell membranes of the brain and can interact with mood-related molecules, so they act as antidepressants. They also possess some anti-inflammatory actions which may relieve depression. Higher consumption of seafood, a source of omega-3 fatty acids by lactating mothers, leads to higher DHA levels in the mother's milk. This increased DHA level further helps to lower the prevalence of postpartum depression.

With Scientific Evidence,

Many traditional and clinical experiments are going on to clarify the effectiveness of PUFAs over depression and mental illness. More than 30 clinical trial-based studies were done.

Several studies with scientific shreds of evidence are given below.

  • In 2009, scientists used EPA to treat three types of depression: recurrent depression in children, adults, and bipolar depression. Studies revealed that EPA helped to improve depression rather than a placebo.

  • In 2004, the National Institute of Health proved that the combination of DHA and EPA provided some relief from the symptoms of depression with minor depression, major depression, postpartum depression, and suicidal ideation.

  • Scientists of Maudsley Biomedical Research Center, being in the National Institute of Medical Research, manifested the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids over depression.

  • He et al. made spatial learning on neurogenesis with a transgenic mouse. The study reviewed that more DHA is generated while omega-six fatty acids are converted to omega-three fatty acids, which helps in learning and memory.

  • A study by Maes et al. with 34 primary depression patients and 14 ordinary healthy people was done for their omega-3 and omega-6 levels. This trial demonstrates that major depression results from significantly lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Mamalakis et al. study shows that mild depression patients had lower DHA levels in the adipose tissue(body fat) than a healthy person. These last two points illustrate that enhanced levels of omega-3 fatty acids alter the function of neurons and drop the rate of depression.

Conclusion

Up-to-day research is evident that omega-3 fatty acids through diet or supplements, in combination with other treatments, show benefits over depression. Still, some clear-cut research is going on to well portray the effects and show whether they apply to all. Though omega-3 fatty acids have numerous advantages, kindly consult your physician before taking them, as they could modify other medical conditions and drugs.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

How Long Does It Take for Omega-3 Fatty Acids to Work for Depression?

It may take several weeks or even months of consistent omega-3 supplementation before noticeable improvements in depressive symptoms are observed. It is important to note that individual responses may vary, and the effectiveness of omega-3s in treating depression may depend on the severity of the depression, the general health of the individual, and other treatment approaches being used.

2.

Is Omega-3 Fatty Acids Beneficial for Anxiety and Depression?

Preliminary research suggests that supplementation with EPA and DHA, two types of omega-3 fatty acids, may positively impact the associated symptoms of anxiety and depression. These fatty acids play a vital role in neurotransmitter function and inflammation regulation associated with brain processes, which are relevant to mental health. However, more research is needed to establish conclusive findings.

3.

Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Be Considered a Natural Antidepressant?

Omega-3 fatty acids can be considered as a potential natural antidepressant. While they are not classified as traditional antidepressant medications, studies have suggested that omega-3 supplementation, specifically with EPA and DHA, may have antidepressant effects. Omega-3 fatty acids play a role in various processes in the brain that are related to mood regulation and neurotransmitter function.

4.

Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Make One Happier?

Omega-3 fatty acids have the potential to positively impact mood and contribute to happiness. Studies suggest that supplementation with EPA and DHA, two types of omega-3s, may have mood-enhancing effects. However, individual responses may vary, and happiness is influenced by multiple factors. While omega-3 fatty acids can support overall well-being, they may not guarantee happiness on their own.

5.

Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Be Substituted for Antidepressants?

No, omega-3 fatty acids should not replace antidepressant medications. They can be used as a complementary addition to prescribed treatment, but it is important to consult with a doctor before making any changes to the medication regimen as omega-3 fatty acids have the potential to interact with certain medications.

6.

Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Benefit Mental Health?

Yes, omega-3 fatty acids can benefit mental health. They play a role in brain function and have been associated with improved mental well-being. Incorporating omega-3s into one’s diet or through supplementation may support overall mental health. However, it is important to consult with a doctor for guidance regarding the dosage and duration of omega-3 fatty acid supplements.

7.

Can Omega-3 Fatty Acid Deficiency Cause Depression?

Yes, omega-3 fatty acid deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of developing depression. Research suggests that a lack of omega-3s in the diet may contribute to the development or worsening of depressive symptoms. However, depression is a complex condition with various factors involved, and omega-3 deficiency is just one potential contributing factor. 

8.

What Is the Dosage of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Brain Health?

The appropriate dosage of omega-3 fatty acids for brain health depends on individual factors like age, overall health, and specific conditions. Typically, a daily intake of 250-500 milligrams of combined EPA and DHA is recommended for brain health benefits. However, it is important to consult with a doctor before starting any supplementation, since certain medications (Aspirin) may interact with omega-3 fatty acids. 

9.

Is It Recommended to Take Omega-3 Fatty Acids Daily?

Omega-3 fatty acids are generally recommended to be taken daily, as they are considered essential for the body and need to be obtained through diet or supplementation. However, the specific dosage and duration of supplementation may vary depending on the specific requirement for the individual and general health conditions. 

10.

Does Omega-3 Fatty Acids Contribute to Serotonin Production?

Serotonin is a type of chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) found in the brain. Omega-3 fatty acids do not directly contribute to serotonin production. While they play a role in brain health, their impact on serotonin levels is indirect and not fully understood. Serotonin production is influenced by various factors, including diet and lifestyle.

11.

Does Omega-3 Fatty Acids Increase the Level of Dopamine?

Omega-3 fatty acids have shown potential for positively influencing dopamine levels in the brain. Studies indicate that omega-3 supplementation can increase dopamine levels and enhance the binding of dopamine receptors in specific brain regions. However, the precise mechanisms underlying this relationship are not understood, and more research is required to establish a definitive connection.

12.

Why Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids Beneficial for Mood?

Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to be beneficial for mood due to their role in supporting brain health and function. Omega-3 fatty acids also have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce inflammation in the brain, which has been linked to mood disorders. Omega-3 fatty acids influence neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which play a crucial role in mood regulation.

13.

Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Cure Brain Fog?

Omega-3 fatty acids have been suggested as a potential aid in reducing brain fog (confusion, lack of focus). However, the effectiveness in alleviating brain fog may vary among individuals. Other factors such as stress management, sleep patterns, and overall lifestyle play a role in managing brain fog.

14.

Is Fish Oil Beneficial for Mental Clarity?

Fish oil, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, has shown promise in promoting mental health by protecting the brain, enhancing brain function, and potentially aiding in the treatment of conditions like depression. However, further research is necessary to fully understand the extent of these benefits.

15.

Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Benefit Hair Health?

Few research studies have provided evidence to show that hair health can improve with omega- 3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in maintaining overall skin health, including the scalp, which is important for promoting healthy hair growth. They help nourish hair follicles, improve hair strength and elasticity, and reduce scalp inflammation. 
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Dr. Vishal Anilkumar Gandhi
Dr. Vishal Anilkumar Gandhi

Psychiatry

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