The purpose of this article is to introduce evidence that will connect the importance of omega 3 fatty acid to mood and cognitive disorders. Nearly 58 million people have a mental illness, 1 out of every 4 adults, (2005). Research is showing evidence that a deficiency of essential fatty acids (EFAs) is detrimental to proper mental functioning, especially Omega 6, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and Omega 3, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The formation of mood and cognitive disorders is found in the development and function of the central nervous system. Animal studies have shown reduced accrual of omega 3 (DHA) during critical stages of brain development resulting in neurocognition deficits and elevated behavioral indices of anxiety, aggression, and depression. The amount of omega 3 or 6 in the cell membrane determines its response to depression. “Omega 3 contributes to heart and neurological health and is vital for fetal brain development” reported in the Harvard Mental Health Letter (2011). Supplementing with this nutrient will increase the neuro conductivity of the brain decreasing inflammation and depression. Omega 3, DHA, is responsible for gene expression of the brain, retina, liver, and adipose tissues.
Studies are showing a strong correlation with this nutrient and mental disorders. Kiecolt-Glaser and her team of researchers tested omega 3 supplementations for lowering inflammation and anxiety in 68 medical students in a 12-week, double-blind placebo-control study. Results showed that lipopolysaccharides and interleukin 6 were decreased by 14% and a 20% decrease in anxiety. A review of nutritional therapies reported that fatty acid 3 was clinically tested in 244 studies for depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia.
The cytokine hypothesis states that depression has been viewed as an inflammatory response. Heart attacks produce major depression seen in 20% of patients. The immune response to the inflammation may be producing depression. Inflammation causes apoptosis (cell death) and cellular death creates depression. The pro-inflammatory cytokines that are involved in the immune response are TNFa, interleukin 1& 2, and interferon-gamma. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are known to inhibit cell apoptosis. The depletion of this nutrient during pregnancy doubles the risk of depression, reported by the Avon Longitudinal Study of Pregnancy and Childhood.
Research is showing that depression appears in various mental disorders. Let’s review three separate studies on the use of omega 3 and depression. The first study focused on 20 unipolar adults and showed significant results in week 3. Furthermore, the second study of 28 children with major depression, showed significant on all three scales. The last study consisted of 12 bipolar outpatients with depressive symptoms. Eight out of ten individuals showed a 50% reduction in their one-month follow-up on the Hamilton Depression scores. It appears that in major depression, neurotransmission of the dopamine receptors has changed. Supplementation increased dopamine in the frontal cortex.
Bipolar consists of a major depressive state and mania. Sixteen juvenile bipolar disorder participants were given EFAs. The mania improved slightly but the depression improved over 50%. Parent rating on a child’s behavior after the treatment also improved. Bipolar individuals usually have low levels of omega 3 (EPA) needed for proper thinking, and taking 1 to 2 grams daily will reduce manic depressive symptoms.
Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological failure in parts of the brain that exhibits inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity. The child may display one or more of the behaviors and may have learning disabilities reported by the National Institute of Mental Health, 1999. Areas of the brain associated with dysfunction are basal ganglia and right prefrontal cortex. Preterm babies show deficits in cortical gray matter maturation and children diagnosed with ADHD or schizophrenia show the same, (McNamara & Carlson, 2006).
Nine ADHD children were given fatty acids supplements. They continued to take stimulant medication for eight weeks. There were significant improvements in hyperactivity and inattention. A literature review on studies conducted on ADHD and polyunsaturated fatty acids suggested the use of long-chain fatty acids and gamma-linolenic acid for 3-4 months leading to a reduction of symptoms. Low levels of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids were found in children with ADHD.
Schizophrenia disorder changes a person’s perception of reality and is accompanied by delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations. However, Omega 3 fatty acids were given to a schizophrenic non-medicated individual resulting in a reversal of symptoms. This mono study showed both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids were corrected in the cell membrane.
Fatty acid 3 also changed negative levels of arachidonic acid either by activation of a fatty acid coenzyme or by inhibition of a specific phospholipase. Twenty-five healthy adults answered the O-Life questionnaire. Blood samples taken to measure levels of omega 3 coincided with positive schizotypal traits. A schizophrenic individual has low omega 3. This nutrient can be used as a treatment by displaying positive schizotypy but not negative withdrawal.
Another study analyzed 61 schizophrenia patients on fatty acids and B vitamin status. Patients had high saturated fats and low polyunsaturated fats of omega 3 and 6. They also had high homocysteine levels and low B12 vitamins. Risk factors for low fatty acids are alcohol assumption and duration of illness.
A study on 17 schizophrenic patients medicated on haloperidol was given supplements. Supplementation given per day included 1000 mg of omega 3 fatty acids, 400 units of vitamin E, and 1000 mg of vitamin C per day. Results showed a beneficial effect of supplementation on negative symptoms of the illness, the side effects of the medication, and restless leg syndrome (akathisia). Superoxide dismutase was also lower at the end of the study, (Sivrioglua et al., (2007).
A study conducted to analyze 31 mentally unstable boys from South Korea on the levels of omega 3/omega 6 ratio. They reported, by increasing the DHA by one unit, odds of “mental retardation decreased by 74%”. Somega-6 were higher and Somega-3 were lower. The ratio should contain more 3-omega fatty acids than 6.
Alzheimer’s Disease is classified as a neurodegenerative disease, characterized by “amyloid plaques, neurofibrillary tangles, and dystrophic neuritis”. Also, several brain regions had low levels of DHA, as well as other low-level phospholipids.
Healthline reported that most health organizations agree that 250–500 mg of combined EPA and DHA is enough for adults to maintain overall health. High amounts of omega-3 fats from fatty fish, algae, and several high-fat plant foods. The site also mentioned that it helps reduce metabolic syndrome symptoms, helps treat lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and psoriasis.
Try to eat foods that are rich in this neuro-nutrient. Plant-based foods that contain another Omega-3 EFA known as ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). ALA converts to EPA and DHA a low ratio in the body. Here is a short list: Grass-fed beef, Anchovies, Fontina cheese, Spinach, Navy beans, Firm tofu, Whole-grain mustard seeds, Wild rice, Omega-3 eggs, and Walnuts.
In reviewing epidemiological and treatment studies that analyzed deficiency of omega 3 and mood disorders, I think it is safe to say that this neuro-nutrient plays an important role in the development and thinking brain. The latest and more in-depth research shows that omega 3 has neuroprotective properties and can help with neurodegenerative and neurological disorders. Clinical trials on EPAs show benefits in mood disorders. Alzheimer’s disease has focused on DHA and is the most important nutrient in the brain. DHA is vital to neural membranes. EPA, DPA, and DHA can produce enzyme derived anti-inflammatory mediators and aid with brain health and repair.
Healthline has reported the same health benefits that I listed. If you wish to read the full article on the latest research, please just google the DOI number listed here.
Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience 7:52. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA, and DHA
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