A spoonful of science
What if you discovered a drug with antidepressant qualities, the power to reduce cognitive decline by up to 50% and the ability to lower heart attack risk by 28% (77% for African Americans). You’d put it in the water, right?
Fish oil is known to have many beneficial effects on our health and clinical trials demonstrate that supplementation is beneficial in the management of depression. Fish oil contains the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA and there are several mechanisms which are thought to induce an antidepressant effect, including anti-inflammatory action and direct effects on membrane properties.
A meta-analysis of clinical trials found good responsiveness in people with Major Depressive Disorder using 1g EPA daily. The research also suggests that people already using antidepressants may amplify the effectiveness of their medication through the inclusion of fish oil supplementation. While studies suggest that EPA may be more effective than DHA in the modulation of depression we would be wise to remember that DHA compromises around 50% of our brain cell membranes and so supplementing with a combination of both omega 3’s may be useful and that supplementation should be tailored to the persons personalised nutrition requirements.
Omega 3 fats are called ‘essential fatty acids’ because our body can’t make them. We therefore need to make smart food choices in order to obtain them. The most bioavailable source of omega 3 are oily fish. The acronym SMASHT is an easy way to remember which fish are on this list: sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon, herring and trout. Wild fish is best, followed by organic farmed. These fish get their omega 3 from the algae they eat. They store it in their muscle tissues which in turn provide us with a super concentrated source of this healthful oil. It is recommended that you consume 140g of oily fish a week to provide your body with adequate amounts of this nutrient.
For those of you who do not love fish you will be pleased to learn that omega 3’s are also present in healthy amounts in wild game and omega 3 enriched eggs and algae. There is a strong social movement towards a more plant-based style of eating and veganism is on the rise. The fact that people can obtain their omega 3’s from algae and other plant based sources such as flaxseed oil and walnuts is a strong message from these social groups. However, if you are interested in exploring this style of eating the key thing to bear in mind is that you will only convert up to 15% of the plant-based fats you eat into the DHA which is so vital for healthy brain function. Moreover, certain genetic anomalies can further compromise conversion rates and this can increase risk of suffering with poor memory and concentration, low mood and other neurological issues in vulnerable individuals.
For those of you who are keen on pursuing a plant-based diet free of wild meat and fish then monitoring of your essential fatty acid balance is highly recommended - at least in the early months of transitioning to this style of eating - to ensure that you are safeguarding your body, brain and mental health.