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Patients with depression and anxiety lack omega-3

Patients with depression and anxiety lack omega-3A growing number of people are affected by depression and anxiety, and there are quite a few who do not benefit from their medicine, which in some cases may even cause side effects. Earlier studies show that lack of omega-3, the essential fatty acids found primarily in oily fish, play a major role in depression. The question is how important is omega-3 for those, who already receive therapy for their depression, and what about those in therapy for anxiety? A group of Dutch scientists set out to answer this question. A thing to make a note of is that it is the two omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, which have a direct influence on our mood, and when supplementing, it may take some time before the effect is optimal.

Depression is a psychological disorder that is characterized by persistent depression, lack of desire and interest, low energy levels, and increased tiredness. It is a morbid condition that is not in any way caused by laziness or a lacking ability to pull yourself together. Things and events that used to put the sufferer in a good mood suddenly don’t matter, and there is no longer any joy from socializing with others, from working, or from engaging in free-time activities. Even happy memories are enwrapped in a dark cloud of indifference. Most people eventually recover from their depression, but if you have experienced the problem once, you are more likely to become depressed again later on in life.

In the new Dutch study, the participants were divided into the following groups:

  • 304 participants were only depressed
  • 548 participants suffered from anxiety
  • 529 participants suffered from both depression and anxiety
  • 897 participants had recovered from anxiety/depression
  • 634 participants served as a control group

The researchers measured blood levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the study participants and used the blood content as an indicator of levels of fatty acids in the brain. Furthermore, they gathered data about the medical history and medicine consumption of all participants.

It is important to measure omega-3 fatty acid levels in those who are depressed or feel anxiety

The study revealed that those patients, who had the lowest levels of omega-3 fatty acids, had the most severe degree of depression. Patients who suffered from both anxiety and depression had lower omega-3 levels than those, who only had depression. The patients did not have lower levels of omega-6.
The Dutch study aligns with other studies, in which it has been observed that omega-3 fatty acids are highly important for the brain, nervous system, and mood. If a person lacks omega-3, a fish oil supplement is a simple, inexpensive, and safe treatment, which helps correct in a natural way the underlying cause of the symptoms. The study is published in the science journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Sources of the different omega-3 fatty acids and their important formation

Omega-3 fatty acids occur in different forms. The type called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is converted into EPA and DHA by means of certain enzymes. EPA and DHA are embedded in our cell membranes and have a number of different physiological functions. ALA is found primarily in linseed oil, rapeseed oil, walnuts, and chia seeds.
EPA and DHA occur mainly in oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, herring, anchovies, sardines, eel, lumpfish, and rainbow trout Cod liver oil and krill oil are also good sources.
Many people have difficulty with converting ALA into the active forms of omega-3 (EPA and DHA), for which reason most studies of omega-3 are conducted using oily fish or fish oil supplements.

EPA inhibits brain inflammation in depression

Several studies show that depression is associated with inflammation-like changes to the brain, where the immune system overreacts. Researchers from Harvard University conducted a study of 155 people suffering from severe depression. The study participants received either placebo (dummy pills) or omega-3 fatty acids in the form of DHA (1,060 mg) or DHA (900 mg) for a two-month period. Upon completing the study, the scientists found that supplements of EPA had the most powerful anti-inflammatory effect and are therefore most effective for ameliorating depression.

Fish oil supplements for anxiety and depression

When buying fish oil, always make sure to study the label. It is essential that the daily EPA dosage is around 1,000 mg, which is very similar to the 930 mg of EPA given in the Harvard University study. Fish oils based on free fatty acids are easily absorbed by the body. Also make sure that the peroxide value and content of environmental toxins are within the threshold values issued by the health authorities.
It normally takes around a month for the omega-3 to deliver the optimal effect. Similarly, it takes about a month for the effect to wear off if you discontinue your use of fish oil.

The balance between omega-3 and omega-6 is important

The brain contains large concentrations of omega-3 and omega-6, which ensure the integrity of the neuronal network. Omega-3 fatty acids have a biochemical interplay with omega-6, and it is essential to consume the two fatty acids in the right balance.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids compete for the conversion of various compounds, which help control inflammation and a number of other processes in the body. Therefore, a high intake of omega-6 from foods such as plant oils, margarine, ready meals, meat, and dairy products, all of which characterizes modern diets, shifts the balance in a direction that increases the risk of chronic inflammation. Most people in Western countries need less omega-6 and more omega-3 to prevent both depression and a number of other lifestyle diseases.


Carisha S. Thesing et al. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid levels in depressive and anxiety disorders. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2018

Robert M. Carney et al: Baseline Blood Levels of Omega-3 and Depression Remission: A Secondary Analysis of Data From a Placebo-Controlled Trial of Omega-3 Supplements. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2016

Rapaport MH et al. Inflammation as a predictive biomarker for response to omega-3 fatty acids in major depressive disorder: a proof-of-concept study. Molecular Psychiatry 2015

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