Depression is considered to be one of the most widespread diseases globally.1 Depression is often considered to be emotionally or biochemically rooted, however the way we nourish ourselves through food can be critical to the length and intensity of depression symptoms.2 In this post I will explore how a lack of omega-3 fatty acids can contribute to symptoms of depression.
Symptoms of depression includes feelings of sadness, lethargy, decrease in appetite, and lack of interest in activities that are normally pleasurable. Researchers have noted that populations with a low intake of omega-3 fatty acids experience a higher occurrence of major depression. 2 Furthermore, epidemiological data suggests that people who have a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids have a decreased risk of developing prenatal depression, major depression, and bipolar depression.1
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What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
There are three main omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found mostly in plant oils, like flaxseed oil, while DHA and EPA are contained in fish and seafood.3
ALA is an essential fatty acid, which means that it is unable to be synthesized in your body. This is why it’s so important to make sure you are getting it through your diet. While small amounts of ALA can be converted into EPA then DHA, it’s not a significant enough amount to increase your omega-3 fatty acid levels.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Mood
Clinical studies and epidemiological data have clearly demonstrated that depression can be treated by omega-3 fatty acids2 and that deficits and omega-3 fatty acids are a contributing factor to mood disorders.4 How does it do this? There are two different perspectives on this – one asserts that omega-3 PUFAs (polyunsaturated fats) have an anti-inflammatory effect on neural cells, which leads to decreased feelings of depression, and the other perspective states that, “PUFAs cause membrane modification either by a direct interaction with the plasma membrane or via a modification of the G-protein.”5 Both of these may contribute to the anti-depressant effect of omega-3s.
If you suffer from depression, it’s a good idea to evaluate if you are consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids. Always talk to your doctor before making changes to your diet. Easy ways to incorporate more omega-3 to your diet include adding things like chia seeds, flaxseed, salmon, and walnuts.
Sarah Tronco, LCSW, provides online counseling in New Jersey and works to develop a strong therapeutic relationship with her clients, which helps to create a secure place where individuals can achieve meaningful change.