Omega 3 fatty acids and mood disorders

By now we've all heard the many news reports that say eating omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood and some plant life is good for us. We know that this strange substance can be helpful for a myriad of health areas including our heart, cholesterol and others.

Most of us have also heard the recommendation that we eat two or three servings of fish each week in order to get the benefits of increased omega-3 fatty acids in our diets.

Well today I have another good reason to eat more fish, tofu, flax seed and other foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, this compound has also been shown to have a healthful connection with mood disorders.

Several recent studies suggest a connection between seafood consumption and rates of mood disorders, populations that eat more seafood have less depression.

In countries such as Iceland and Japan, the rates of seasonal affective disorder are unexpectedly low. One explanation is that these countries have a much higher consumption of seafood than other countries. For example, Icelanders eat an average of 225 pounds of fish per person per year compared to only 50-70 pounds for people in many other countries. In Japan, the average fish consumption is close to 150 pounds per person per year.

Similar relationships have been found with bipolar disorder and postpartum depression and the consumption of foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids found in various plant and sea life and are considered essential for normal cell growth in the body. Research in recent years has also shown that consuming foods higher in these compounds leads to better health in a number of areas.

With our oceans already being over-fished, it might not be a practical solution for everyone to increase their fish consumption. Further research is still needed to identify the exact active ingredient within the fish and to learn to synthesize it. Still more research could discover an optimal dose of this ingredient as well as the circumstances under which it needs to be provided.

Are benefits only noticeable when a person is deficient? Or could we all benefit from having more of this compound regardless of our biological levels? None of these associations have been confirmed in all studies and some have found the positive effects to be more prominent for women than for men.

One theory that is currently under investigation is the idea that these fatty acids affect cell membrane fluidity, which could in turn affect the structure or function of proteins embedded in cell membranes that function in a variety of ways, as receptors, transport channels or enzymes.

Some clinical trials have examined these observations to find out whether supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids is effective in the treatment of mood disorders. So far, these studies have focused on bipolar disorder, major depression, borderline personality disorder and postpartum depression. Most have involved small numbers of subjects and although some encouraging results have been found so far, there is not enough evidence yet to recommend omega-3 supplementation as a first line treatment for these disorders.

More clinical trials are needed with larger study groups before we can make any real recommendations.

Still, it is always exciting when we find promising methods to potentially create more effective treatments and preventative measures for mental health conditions such as mood disorders.

In the meantime, enough research has already found that increasing your omega-3 fatty acid intake is healthy for other reasons and there are a lot of tasty foods out there that can help you do this.


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