Can Omega 3 help depression?

Benefits of Omega 3 fish oil for depression & anxiety

Low mood, low energy, low interest in all the things that used to make you happy. Depression will affect one in four of us at some point, but it doesn’t have to rule your life. And while taking action may be the last thing you feel like doing, there are plenty of simple, positive steps you can take to lift your mood.

There’s looking at your diet, for instance. While no food will instantly cure depression, evidence shows that supplementing your diet with Omega 3 fish oil is a great idea, whether or not you decide to take antidepressants.

Scientists know that Omega 3 levels are low in people with depression and that societies who eat large amounts of oily fish have much lower rates of mental health problems overall. In fact the links between low Omega 3 and depression are so well-studied, that a diet rich in oily fish is advised by most mental health organisations, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

So what are the main Omega 3 fish oil benefits for depression? How exactly does this essential fatty acid work to lift your mood? And how much fish oil should you take for optimum mental health? Find out all this and more with our Omega 3 depression guide.

Can Omega 3 really help with depression?

Study after study shows that Omega 3 is one of the best supplements for depression, helping reduce symptoms including sadness, pessimism and sleeplessness. Taking Omega 3 seems to help with depression because it contains large amounts of the essential fatty acids, DHA and EPA. The brain needs both to function properly and you can only get them from the food you eat. DHA primarily plays a role in developing neurons, while EPA is crucial for chemical signalling between brain cells and can influence levels of feel-good serotonin. In fact one of the main benefits of fish oil on depression is its ability to lift your mood.

How does Omega 3 help with depression?

To work out the link between Omega 3 fish oil and depression, we need to look at the role it plays in the brain. Just as our bones need calcium, our brain relies on Omega 3 to form all of its structural material. In fact it’s one of the basic building blocks of the entire nervous system. Cell membranes and neurons are made up of fatty acids and they are also crucial for keeping brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin moving along smoothly. But our bodies cannot produce this fat on their own. We can get it only from very specific parts of our diets, such as oily fish and fish oil supplements.

What are the links between diet, Omega 3 and depression?

More and more of us are suffering with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2020, mental illness will be second only to heart disease as one of the world’s biggest health issues. But what could be behind this huge rise in mental distress?

Experts believe the answer could be found in our diet and specifically in the balance between the amount of Omega 6 fats we eat compared to Omega 3 fats. This is a ratio that has dramatically changed over the last century.

While the number of Omega 3 fats we eat has dropped, our consumption of Omega 6 fats has soared. In the US, consumption of Omega 6 now outweighs that of Omega 3 by a ratio of 20:1 and we’re not far behind in the UK, where the ratio is now 15:1. This is a huge imbalance, given that the ideal ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 has been recommended by experts to be approximately 2:1 (with some even saying it should be 1:1).

There are a number of reasons why we’ve tipped the balance in favour of Omega 6. We rely on Omega 6-rich seed and vegetable oils. We cook with them and they’re in virtually all processed foods, from crisps to granola. Even the animals we eat (or get milk from) have been fed on Omega 6 rich-food instead of their natural diet.

While we do need Omega 6 fats, it’s this huge imbalance in our diets that seems to cause us a lot of problems, from skin conditions like acne and eczema, to heart disease and arthritis. But for some people, not having enough Omega 3 fatty acids in their diet can have consequences for the brain and depression is only one of them.

“Our findings indicate that blood levels of Omega 3 are lower in people with a current depressive disorder.”Carisha Thesing, Department of Psychiatry, Amsterdam Free University

What is EPA and DHA and which one’s best for depression?

When it comes to taking fish oil for your mental health, you may have heard a lot about EPA and DHA. But what are the EPA DHA depression links and which one’s best when it comes to boosting low moods?

There are actually three types of Omega 3 fatty acids: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). More than 30 percent of your brain is made up of these polyunsaturated fats and depressed people are often found to have particularly low levels of EPA and DHA in their blood.

While all three types are essential, research shows that DHA and EPA have a particularly strong role to play when it comes to depression. At one point it was thought that DHA was more important, purely because our bodies use it to make brain structures such as neurons. But EPAs have also been found to be neuroprotective, helping with signalling between brain cells which, according to research published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, appears to influence mood and behaviour.

Because the Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA help the brain in their own unique ways, you’ll want to have both of these potent depression fighters on your side. The best fish oil for depression will be a supplement that contains the maximum amount of both.

How much Omega 3 should you have each day to help with depression?

While there are no official guidelines when it comes to the correct fish oil dosage for depression and anxiety, studies have shown that high doses of Omega 3, from 200 to 2,200mg per day, can reduce symptoms of depression.

And if you were looking to raise your mood, a supplement with higher amounts of EPA than DHA may be best.

Just one teaspoon of our Lion Heart Omega 3 fish oil has 2,000mg EPA and 1,000mg DHA, so you’ll get the maximum amounts of both.

What are the best fish oil supplements for depression?

The best fish oil supplements for depression are ones that are made using oily fish. While there are plant-based sources of the Omega 3 ALA, such as walnuts, flax and chia seeds, research shows your body doesn’t efficiently convert ALA into EPA or DHA.

Our clinical strength Lion Heart fish oil supplements are made from wild (never farmed) sardine, anchovy and mackerel. Each batch is tested for purity and the results are published on our website.

How long will it take for fish oil to help depression?

You may be hoping that your low mood will lift straight away. Sadly, people with depression tend to have lower than normal Omega 3 levels in their blood to start with, so it may take a little time for your body to build up its stores of DHA and EPA.

The strength of your fish oil supplement will also impact how long it takes for you to see a difference, which is another reason to choose a clinical strength Omega 3 supplement. Of course you also have to remember to take it consistently every day.

Although it may take a month for your blood to reach optimal levels of Omega 3 and up to three months for levels to improve in your brain, some depression sufferers, such as journalist Hannah Betts, find they notice a difference in their symptoms in just two and a half weeks.

"I started taking Lion Heart and to the day of two and half weeks, I started feeling happy. And that was such an unusual feeling for me.”Hannah Betts, broadsheet journalist

Can Omega 3 help with postnatal depression?

A UK survey of 14,500 families found that pregnant women with diets low in Omega 3 and high in Omega 6 were at higher risk of postnatal depression, while a study published in the British Medical Journal revealed that societies who consume more fish have a lower rate of depression overall.

While most of us struggle to get the recommended amount of Omega 3 fatty acid DHA in our diets, according to the government guidelines, during pregnancy and breastfeeding our brains get even less of this potent depression fighter. That’s because when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, your body prioritises your own DHA to support the brain development of your growing baby. It seems that without topping up your own levels, you can become depleted in this important nutrient, leaving you at higher risk of postnatal depression after giving birth.

Speaking to Bare Biology, Zara Stella, a registered nutritional therapist and health coach, explained why this would be. “Research indicates that Omega 3 fatty acids may have antidepressant effects due to their role in the function of serotonin, the ‘feel-good hormone’. Dietary intake of Omega 3s might not be sufficient to provide effective results and in fact some studies show the best outcomes are achieved with fairly high levels of supplementation.”

One tiny Bump & Glory capsule daily gives you and your baby 560mg of Omega 3 DHA, more than double the amount available in other leading pregnancy brands.

Is it safe to take fish oil and antidepressants?

The British Journal of Psychiatry estimates that one in 11 of us is now taking antidepressants and while they can be a lifesaver, they don’t work for everyone.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said, "While antidepressants can be very effective for some they’re not the solution for everyone and should never be used as a first-line treatment for mild depression."

While you shouldn’t stop taking antidepressants without consulting your doctor, there’s every reason to believe that taking fish oil alongside antidepressants can actually boost their effectiveness.

In 2016, researchers reviewed the findings of eight clinical trials worldwide and found that Omega 3 supplements boosted the effects of antidepressants in people already on medication. Study leader Jerome Sarris (University of Melbourne) said, "Omega 3 fish oil in combination with antidepressants had a statistically significant effect over a placebo."

Speak to your doctor to see if you could take Omega 3 supplements alongside your antidepressant therapy.

Can fish oil really help my depression?

It sounds like such a simple thing to do, but study after study shows that supplementing your diet with a daily dose of fish oil really can help improve the symptoms of depression. A 2018 study by Dutch researchers, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, found that increasing levels of the DHA and EPA found in fish oil improved brain signaling mechanisms and levels of brain chemicals associated with positive mood.

Lead author of the report, Carisha Thesing, (Amsterdam Free University’s Department of Psychiatry) said, “Our findings indicate that blood levels of Omega 3 are lower in people with a current depressive disorder. The results are consistent with earlier research and indicate that doctors should be aware that currently depressed patients, especially those with an additional anxiety disorder and more severe symptoms, may be at high risk of having low Omega 3 blood levels.”

But this latest study just adds to a growing body of evidence which suggests Omega 3s are crucial for people suffering from depression.

Of course if you’re on any medication you should always speak to your doctor before taking a clinical strength fish oil. But when you get the go-ahead and start taking fish oil, you may find it improves your health in other areas too.

And unlike other natural treatments for depression, such as getting outside to take regular exercise or cold water swimming, taking a daily small teaspoon of fish oil such as Lion Heart is achievable for most people, even on those days when you really can’t get out of bed.

Read more guides on depression and how to help...