Are fish oils the cure for mental health?

Are fish oils the cure for mental health?

Are fish oils the cure for mental health?

This month in our Health promotion calendar we are focusing on mental health.

WHO definition of Health

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

With this in mind then it is clear that mental health is a priority for healthcare providers and should be a concern of all adults just as much, if not more than the concern and care that goes into preserving their physical health.

The rationale here is: if one is willing to wake up at 6 am and jog for 1 hour or sweat it out in the gym, choose carefully what they eat and dedicate time to living a healthy lifestyle then some effort should be spared towards promoting mental health. Here is some information on how to achieve the same with your mental health.

OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS:

What are they?

The Omega 3’s are a group of essential fatty acid nutrients derived from marine or plant sources. The two principle types of Omega-3 are EPA and DHA – both found in fish oil. Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to have mood stabilizing effects, and fish oil has become a very popular choice among those with bipolar disorder and depressive illnesses seeking natural treatment for their symptoms.

Fish, particularly fatty ocean fish, is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. At least three clinical trials have observed a marked improvement in depressed patients given relatively high doses of fish oils. This has spurred other scientists to look closer at the potential benefits of fish oil supplementation. At the moment there are at least 10 clinical trials underway evaluating fish oils in the treatment of depression, attention deficit disorder, and schizophrenia

Fish oils: A cure for depression?

According to a BBC report, on a worldwide basis more working days are lost to depression than to any other illness. The incidence of depression is growing with people born within the last 50 years being twice as likely to suffer from it as were their parents.

Dr. Joseph Hibbeln of the National Institutes of Health believes that the reason for the increase in depression can be directly attributed to a major shift in dietary patterns, specifically fat intake. He points out that the vast increase in the use of soy, corn, palm and cotton seed oils in the last 100 years has totally changed the traditional ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Soy oil consumption in the US, for example, has increased thousand-fold in the last 100 years helping to skew the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio from about 1:1 to today’s 16:1.

The brain consists pretty well entirely of fat so clearly one’s fat intake could affect one’s brain composition, particularly the ion channels which channel signals in and out of the brain. There is also evidence that low levels of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with low levels of the mood hormone serotonin.

Dr. Hibbeln’s hypothesis is supported by the fact that the incidence of depression is considerably lower in countries with high fish consumption.

HEALTH EFFECTS OF FATS:

BENEFITS:

Omega 3 fatty acids have been linked to various clinical and behavioral conditions involving mental function. These include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, violence, aggression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

These fatty acids are also associated with certain neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. A common feature of these disorders is low levels of the marine or fish oil omega-3s, EPA and DHA and arachidonic acid.

Low levels of omega-3s have not been shown to cause any of these disorders, but they appear to significantly increase the chance of developing them. Other factors are often involved, such as family history and environmental influences. All the same, there is a plausible basis and growing evidence for the involvement of marine omega-3s in brain function in these conditions.

Depression: This is the most common form of mental affliction. The National Institute of Mental Health in the U.S. estimates that about 4% of adolescents also get seriously depressed. More than just feeling “down,” depression affects a person’s ability to work, sleep, eat, and experience pleasure; it can be disabling. It is more common in women than men, particularly after childbirth.

Depression is least common in countries where people eat the most fish, such as Japan, Iceland, and Korea, while countries with low fish consumption have the highest rates. They include the U.S., Canada, and West Germany.

People with depression often have low levels of EPA and DHA in their tissues compared with healthy people, but it is not clear what this means.

Several studies have reported positive outcomes in depressed patients who took EPA along with their usual medication.

Schizophrenia: Less common than depression, schizophrenia is a crippling mental illness that affects about 1% of the US population. There are several neurological and biochemical alterations in this condition, including reduced cell membrane levels of arachidonic acid and DHA. Occurrence of schizophrenia in different countries does not appear to be linked to seafood consumption. Nearly all patients are treated with medications, so studies of supplementation with omega-3s include drug treatment too. Some medications may reduce cell fatty acids, so it is difficult to distinguish the effects of more than one treatment.

Studies have confirmed that people in this country and in many other countries around the world are not eating enough of the right kinds of fish and are therefore not getting enough of the right type of fatty acids. This not only leads to depression but can have horrible effects on physical health as well. The only documented side effects of the Omega 3 fatty acids seem to be nausea, diarrhea, and a fishy aftertaste.

Editor’s comment: Daily supplementation with 1-3 grams of high quality fish oil is entirely safe and may not only improve your mood, but help protect you from heart disease, stroke and arthritis as well!
I don’t know about you but I’m off to purchase some omega 3 as soon as possible.

On that note, here are some locally available preparations:

  • Seven seas: caps and suspension
  • Omega 3 caps.

Sources:
Small, Meredith F.  The happy fat. New Scientist, August 24, 2002, pp. 34-37.
www.fatsoflife.com
BBC.