The importance of Omega 3 fatty acids for physical health is well recognised and there is increasing evidence they are also important for mental health. Epidemiological studies indicate an association between depression and low intake of Omega 3 fatty acids, while biochemical studies have shown low levels of Omega 3 in red blood cell membranes in both depressive and schizophrenic patients.
Professor John Stein, from the Institute of Food, Brain and Behaviour, and the department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at Oxford University, believes a lack of oily fish in our diet plays a key role in the rise of mental health problems.
“Probably the most important change in the past 100 years, that is causing the current epidemic of mental ill health, is the overall deterioration in our diet, of which low fish consumption is the worst example,” Professor Stein.
Recent figures from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey revealed adolescents eat just one tenth of the recommended amount of oily fish per week. According to Professor Stein, this means teenagers are not only deficient in Omega 3 fatty acids, but also in essential vitamins and minerals.
Anxiety and Omega 3
Some people are particularly susceptible to stress or criticism (real or perceived), which can have a very negative effect on their mood. If you’re one of those people, you’ll know how unhelpful it is being told to ‘stop worrying’. There are far more practical steps you can take, according to Dr Alex Richardson, senior research fellow in neuroscience at Oxford University, as Omega 3 supplementation has been shown to reduce this susceptibility in controlled trials.
The British Journal of Nutrition also discovered supplementing your diet with fish oils helps reduce adrenal activation, caused by high levels of mental stress.
A study in 2005 (Fontani G) found that ‘healthy’ people function better and have “increased vigour and reduced anger, anxiety and depression" when taking Omega 3 supplements. While in 2007 Dr Malcolm Garland looked at the effect of Omega 3 supplementation on patients with a number of problems - including self-harm, impulsivity and family problems. He discovered that total levels of Omega 3 and Omega 6 were significantly lower in the self-harm group than the control group, while those with lower levels of Omega 3, but not Omega 6, correlated closely with increased levels of impulsivity and depression.
Depression and Omega 3
Omega 3 has a massive impact on the well-being of our brain. It prevents inflammation and keeps cells fluid, enabling communication between neurons, which is essential for our brains (and bodies) to function effectively. There is a growing body of research to back this up. The American Psychiatric Association recommends Omega 3 as an additional treatment for clinical depression (including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and borderline personality disorder), while researchers at the University of Tel Aviv found evidence that too little Omega 3 and too much Omega 6 are linked to depression. Read more on Omega 6 here.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and Omega 3
40% of women suffer the emotional roller coaster of PMS every month, but taking a fish oil supplement could help.
As we discussed earlier, there is a raft of research into how essential fatty acids can help with depression and low moods, but a recent study in 2013 looked specifically at Omega 3 fatty acids in the treatment of PMS (Sohrabi N, Kashanian M, Ghafoori SS, Malakouti SK). A double blind controlled trial was performed on 184 women, who were randomly assigned into two groups. One group was given 2,000mg of Omega 3 a day and the control group was given a placebo. Researchers found that Omega 3 EFAs reduced the psychiatric symptoms of PMS; this included depression, nervousness, anxiety, lack of concentration and also reduced the physical symptoms, such as bloating, headache and breast tenderness.
Research has also found a link between increased menstrual pain and low Omega 3 blood concentrations and breast tenderness.
Ultimately, combined with a healthy lifestyle, we believe Omega 3 can really help our mental health. It's important to find a high-quality supplement that's strong enough to work. One teaspoon of our Lion Heart fish oil provides 2,000mg EPA and 1,000mg DHA. Plenty to keep your levels where they should be.