Omega-3 and mood improvement go hand in hand. Fish oil, the term used to describe omega-3 fatty acids, is one of the most well-studied supplements on the planet. As far as all natural mood enhancers are concerned, fish oil ranks high atop the list of anxiolytic supplements with the likes of L-Theanine and L-Tyrosine.
Omega-3s boast a broad range of health benefits that have been uncovered, repeatedly, through various clinical studies. Notable benefits include reductions in bodily inflammation, cognitive support, improving symptoms of ADHD in children, and ability to lower blood pressure. But what are studies saying about the supplementation of fish oil for mood stabilization?
Omega-3 as a Mood Stabilizer
The most widely prescribed antidepressants in the world are known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI). These function exactly as you would imagine—by limiting the reabsorption of serotonin allowing it to build up in your brain.
Serotonin is our most prominent inhibitory neurotransmitter. (Read more about natural serotonin boosters here). Contrary to excitatory neurotransmitters, inhibitory neurotransmitters enable us to achieve a relaxed state of mind by calming the brain’s activity. By increasing the amount of “feel good” neurotransmitters in the brain, we can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.
Typically found in seafood and other animal products, omega-3 is an excellent all-natural supplement for mood enhancement and stabilization. No prescription required. Fish oil, while not considered a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI), still has a positive impact on one’s state of mind.
The Two Types of Omega-3
Before we discuss the correlation between omega-3 and mood, there are two types of omega-3 fatty acids to be concerned with: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). The blend of each depends on the kind of health benefit you’re trying to achieve, though both are vital. The requirements our body has for omega-3 change as we age. However, only one of these fatty acids has been proven effective in combating mood disorders. Here is a look at the fundamental differences between EPA and DHA.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is in constant demand by our body. Its most notable benefit is reducing cellular inflammation within the body. Here’s how EPA works to accomplish this:
- Arachidonic acid (AA) produces pro-inflammatory eicosanoids (thromboxanes, prostaglandins, leukotrienes, etc.).
- Delta-5-desaturase (D5D) produces arachidonic acid (AA).
- EPA is an effective inhibitor of enzyme delta-5-desaturase (D5D).
- Therefore, the more EPA you consume, the less AA you produce, thus lessening the amount of pro-inflammatory eicosanoids in your body.
DHA does not inhibit production of AA. This characteristic of EPA is why it’s the go-to fatty acid when it comes to reducing cellular inflammation and neuroinflammation.
Why Is Controlling Bodily Inflammation Important?
Chronic inflammation can degrade overall health and quality of life, and it’s considered by many to be a “secret killer.” On a physiological level, the heat and friction generated by the body can deteriorate internal organs and cause abnormalities in healing. Cortisol, a stress hormone, can trigger the release of additional inflammatory chemicals strongly correlated to chronic degenerative conditions.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is crucial for adolescents during their growth and development stage. Technically, it’s the more important fatty acid in the early stages of life. It is recommended to supplement DHA up until a child begins school.
After the age of five, brain development begins to reduce, thus, the need for DHA to facilitate that growth also decreases. However, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is still important later in life. It is known for its ability to improve membrane fluidity and support overall cognitive function by enhancing communication between neurons. In theory, this includes improving symptoms of depression, stabilizing mood, and sharpening working memory.
Omega 3 for Mood Disorders: EPA vs. DHA
Many people think because DHA supports cognitive function that it would be the clear winner as far as mood stabilization is concerned. Studies have confirmed this is not the case. It is EPA that comes out on top.
Reducing bodily and neuroinflammation will reduce perceived feelings of anxiety and stress to help stabilize your mood. Due to the importance of inflammation reduction, your fish oil supplement should contain larger amounts of EPA. DHA will not be as beneficial for mood stabilization and mood improvement.
The studies in which users experienced reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, used higher concentrations of EPA. Subjects failed to show any noticeable improvements in their symptoms when consuming fish oil supplements with higher levels of DHA. Listed below are the notes from a few relevant studies.
Several studies have concluded that fish oil is effective in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. With few effective treatments for such diseases, having a natural alternative that does the job is a minor miracle.
Taking omega-3 for mood disorders is quite common, but EPA and DHA are not equal. Again, both are vital, but they perform vastly different functions in the body. Because of this, understand that taking fish oil for depression and anxiety does not mean just grab any omega-3 off the shelf.
Ensure you take an EPA-rich omega-3 supplement for best results.
Found that studies that used fish oil with more than 60% EPA were significantly effective in treating depressive symptoms, but supplements using less than 60% EPA (higher DHA content) were ineffective.
Fish oil, at 2.5g omega-3 (2085mg EPA, 348mg DHA) in a cohort of medical students was able to reduce anxiety by 20% (as assessed by Beck Anxiety Inventory) with no effect on depressive symptoms (as assessed by Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale)
In pregnant women with major depressive disorder given 2,200mg EPA and 1,200mg DHA for 8 weeks via menhaden oil, there appeared to be a reduction in depressive symptoms as assessed by EPDS and BDI relative to placebo.
In 20 patients with major depressive disorder, supplemental ethyl ester EPA at 2g daily for 4 weeks noted significantly reduced symptoms associated with fish oil relative to placebo by week 3. The authors were not sure if this was due to fish oil per se or due to augmenting lithium as antidepressant (such a phenomena has been reported elsewhere)
In women with mild to moderate psychological distress given 1.05g EPA and 0.15g DHA (as ethyl esters) daily for had reduced depressive and stress symptoms regardless of whether they were able to meet the requirements of major depressive disorder.
4,400mg EPA and 2,200mg DHA for 8 weeks in persons with major depression reported antidepressant effects of fish oil supplementation.