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Omega-3 and Mental Health

Jessie, HK BioTek Intern

More and more people are suffering from mental illness these days. Almost 1 in 5 adults have experienced mental illness symptoms, and 5% of adults have severe mental conditions like depression and anxiety. Have you ever thought that nutrition can affect your brain development and mental health? Research has suggested that omega-3 fatty acids are involved in physiological functions related to the brain. They are abundant in the brain cell membrane, which can preserve the health of the cell membrane by interacting with the phospholipid metabolism and enhancing the communication between brain cells.

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats often found in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, and the major types of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Our body cannot efficiently produce these kinds of fatty acids, so it is a must to obtain EPA and DHA from marine sources like fish oil products. Nowadays, people do not consume an adequate amount of fatty fish or fish products, so they tend to be at a higher risk of being deficient in the EPA and DHA. Deficiencies in these two types of fatty acids are correlated with an increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders.

How do EPA and DHA affect mental health? According to the Harvard Health blog, it is suggested that omega-3 fatty acids can easily pass through the brain cell’s membrane and interact with mood-related substances like serotonin and serotonin receptors inside it. The anti-inflammatory effect of the fatty acids may also relieve symptoms of depression. Studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids might improve depression, especially for those who are taking antidepressants. Compared to DNA, EPA seems to be more effective in controlling depressive symptoms. Other studies also claimed that EPA might be a possible therapy for patients with borderline personality disorder. Still, more research is needed to be carried out to give dietary recommendations on the amounts of omega-3 fatty acids taken per day in tackling mental health issues.

Nevertheless, omega-3 fatty acids are not useful in preventing mental disorders like depression in the normal population. Havard researchers discovered that omega-3 fatty acids do not affect the overall mental health; no significant difference in depression risk was found in the placebo group and the group who took omega-3 supplements over 5 years. Therefore, there is no reason to consume extra omega-3 for improving mental health or preventing depression. The best way to avoid depression is to get enough sleep, eat well, and practice regular self-care activities like exercise, meditation, and yoga; Understand the reason for being stressed and create a plan to deal with the problem; Seek help from family and friends if needed.

Despite the effect of omega-3 on mental health, it can still provide other benefits like reducing the risk of cardiovascular events and lower blood pressure through its anti-inflammatory function. The suggested dose of omega-3 intake is 250-500 mg per day with a combination of EPA and DHA for healthy individuals. Fatty fish are rich in omega-3, and 40 grams of fatty fish per day can already provide sufficient omega-3. Fish oil supplements containing EPA and DHA could also be a convenient choice to provide enough omega-3 fatty acids for the body.


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