While Omega-3 supplements might appear to be the latest fad, there is actually some truth to the health claims made about these fatty acids, which can be broken down to three different types: EPA, DHA, and ALA. Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to be beneficial for our heart health, specifically for lowering blood fat thus helping protect against heart disease. They can also aid with reducing inflammation and stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis, and help visual and neurological development in infants.
Given that fat makes up a good portion of our brain, there has also been considerable research recently on the link between brain health and omega-3 fatty acids. A number of studies show that omega-3s are beneficial for reducing symptoms of ADHD, possibly dementia and Alzheimer’s, depression, and other mood disorders. Scientists have found that countries or cultures in which fish is a staple part of the diet have lower numbers of depression. Omega-3s are also found to be particularly helpful as a supplement to anti-depressant therapy.
There are a number of ways in which omega-3s can alleviate depression, namely, due to their anti-inflammatory properties, their ability to pass through the brain cell membrane and act on mood-related molecules, and more specifically their impact on a crucial neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin is considered to be imperative for regulating mood, sleep, appetite, and giving us a general feeling of well-being. Likewise, lower levels of serotonin have been linked to a number of mental health issues, including depression, ADHD, and bipolar disorder. Recent studies show that omega-3s, as well as Vitamin D, are important for the release, production, and function of serotonin in the brain, thereby lifting our mood over a period of time.
However, the question is, is it better to get omega-3s from food or to supplement? Many doctors advise eating fish high in DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids, such as anchovies, bluefish, mackerel, wild Salmon etc., about two to three times a week and consuming walnuts, flaxseeds, soybean and/or canola oil (i.e. sources of ALA) to get their weekly quota of omega-3s. For those who don’t consume fish at all, it might be beneficial to speak to the doctor regarding supplementing with omega-3 supplements. Vegetarians or vegans now also have the option of taking omega-3 supplements that are sourced from marine algae and/or flaxseeds.
“Treating depression with Omega-3: Encouraging results from largest clinical study” (2010). Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com
“The Facts on Omega-3 Fatty Acids”. Retrieved from www.webmd.com
Mischoulon, D. (2018). Omega-3 fatty acids for mood disorders. Retrieved from www.health.harvard.edu.