23 May Can Omega-3’s Help With Mental Health?
By Toby Amidor, MS, RD
This post was sponsored by the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED). All thoughts are my own.
One-in-10 people world-wide are afflicted with depression or anxiety disorders according to a 2016 World Health Organization Report. Emerging research suggests that omega-3s play a role in supporting various mood disorders. As May is National Mental Health Awareness month, plus I am personally affected by anxiety, I wanted to highlight the research and let you know how to get your omega-3s.
Linking Mental Health and Nutrition
Between 1990 and 2016 there was a 50% rise in mental disorders with a treatment cost of $1 trillion. There is emerging and compelling evidence suggesting that nutrition plays a role in mental disorders, just like it does in other health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
The connection between mental health and nutrition isn’t new. A study published almost 20 years ago in The Lancet found that the prevalence for major depression was reduced in countries where fish consumption was higher. Further, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report, which compiles the evidence-based review that set the basis for the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, states that, “relationships may exist between eating patterns and some neurocognitive disorders and congenital anomalies.” The report further concludes that there is some, albeit limited, evidence that a diet emphasizing seafood, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes – the same components of a Mediterranean style of eating – is associated with a lower risk of depression in men and non-perinatal women (that is, women who are not pregnant, not about to be pregnant, or who were recently pregnant).
The Link Between Mental Health and Omega-3s
A 2016 meta-analysis with over 150,000 participants examined the relationship between fish consumption and depression. Researchers found that folks who regularly consumed high levels of fish were nearly 20% less likely to have depression compared to folks who did not consume much fish.
Many believe that it’s the omega-3s found in fish, especially fatty fish, that is the key nutrient responsible for these mental health benefits. Three of the most common omega-3s are EPA, DHA and ALA. Both EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish like salmon, anchovies, and mackerel. ALA is a short-chain omega-3 found in plant foods like flax seeds and walnuts. ALA serves as a source of energy and is a building block for making EPA and DHA. However, our bodies don’t convert ALA to EPA and DHA very well, so it’s best to get EPA and DHA directly by eating fatty fish or taking an omega-3 supplements.
A 2010 study looked at EPA and DHA levels in folks with depression and found that blood levels of EPA and DHA are lower in those with major depression. A 2016 study showed clinical benefits to taking EPA verses a placebo in folks with depression.
How To Increase Your Omega-3s?
Based on the research available there seems to be a link between mental health and omega-3 fats. This is just another reason to make sure you take in your omega-3 fats. Here are several ways to do so:
- The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating 8 ounces of seafood per week, in two, 4-oz servings; preferably of “oily” fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, and trout. Use this chart to find out which fish is the highest in omega-3s.
- You can take a high-quality omega-3 supplement every day. When choosing a supplement look for the amount of EPA and DHA per serving and how much you need to get a full serving. Most health professionals recommend 250mg to 500mg of combined EPA and DHA per day for adults.
- Look for EPA and DHA-fortified foods and beverages at your local grocery store such as milk, yogurt, bread, and chocolate. Fortified foods typically have between 30-100 mg of EPA and DHA per serving.