I’m sure you’ve heard before that we should eat fish on a regular basis. Besides being an excellent source of protein, fish contain the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These fatty acids are considered essential because they’re necessary for human health. The body can’t make them – you have to get them through food.
In modern diets, there are relatively few sources of omega-3 fatty acids. They’re found mainly in the fat of cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod, and bluefish.
By contrast, sources of omega-6 essential fatty acids are numerous in the modern diets. Refined vegetable oils, such as soy oil, contain omega-6 and are used in most of the snack foods, cookies, crackers, and sweets in the American diet as well as in fast foods.
Omega-6 fatty acids tend to increase inflammation, blood clotting, and cell proliferation, while omega-3 fatty acids tend to decrease those functions.
Both omega-3’s and 6’s must be in balance in order to maintain optimum health. But the modern diet in America tends more towards the supply of omega-6 fatty acids and less of the omega-3’s. This dietary imbalance may explain the rise of many diseases such as asthma, heart disease, and many forms of cancer, all of which are believed to stem from inflammation in the body.
For this reason, many doctors advise increasing our dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
Multiple studies have been done over the years that have demonstrated the numerous mental health benefits associated with increasing our omega-3 fatty acid intake.
Helps Reduce The Risk of Alzheimer’s
One of the benefits being associated with omega-3 fatty acids is that they’ve been shown to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Greg Cole, professor of medicine and neurology at UCLA and associate director of UCLA’s Alzheimer Disease Research Center, reported that the DHA found in fish oil increases the production of LR11. LR11 is a protein which has been found at reduced levels in Alzheimer’s patients. LR11 is known to destroy a protein that forms the “plaques” associated with Alzheimer’s.
Can Help Prevent Severe Mental Illness
A preliminary study of 81 patients in Austria suggest that severe mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia may be prevented by taking fish oil supplements. Dr. Janet Wozniak of Harvard Medical School said the findings might reasonably cause psychiatrists to recommend fish oil to some patients because there are many known benefits and little risk.
Improvement in Depression Symptoms
In a 1998 report in the Journal of Affective Disorders, it was reported that significantly lower levels of omega-3's were found in the red blood cell membranes of patients with depression.
Then in the May 1999 Archives of General Psychiatry, Andrew Stoll, M.D., and his colleagues reported a study of fish oil conducted on 30 manic-depressive patients. Sixty-four percent of those who took 10 grams of fish oil per day for four months reported a marked improvement in their symptoms. By contrast, only 19 percent of those who received the placebo benefited.
Curbing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD, ADHD)Symptoms with Fish Oil
Paul Montgomery, a researcher in the psychiatry department at the University of Oxford in England, found that "A lack of certain polyunsaturated fatty acids may contribute to dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder." For the study, schoolchildren were given fish oil supplements rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) for a period of three months. The children showed significant improvements in behavior, reading, and spelling.
Says Montgomery. "I think supplementation with omega 3's is the only sensible way forward. One gram per day seems right for most children."
Can Fish Make you Smarter?
In a Norwegian study, about 2,030 people in their early 70s reported their fish consumption and took various mental skills tests. People who reported eating on average at least a third of an ounce of fish per day outscored those who skimped on fish.
In another related study, Dutch researchers took blood samples from 800 men and women aged 50-70. They also were given mental skills tests at the study's start and again three years later. Test scores were lower on the follow-up test but the drop was gentlest in people with the highest blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids at the study's start.
Other Health Benefits of Fish Oil and Omega-3’s
Besides mental health benefits, there are many other health related benefits of consuming fish oil and omega-3’s, such as:
- decreases risk of arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeats),
- decreases triglyceride levels
- slows the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque
- lowers blood pressure (slightly)
- reduces chance of a stroke
- reduces chance of death in people with cardiovascular disease
- reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- may help slow the progression of colon cancer
- help prevent the development of prostate cancer
- protects against the development and progression of retinopathy
- reduces inflammation
The American Heart Association recommends that we eat a variety of (preferably fatty) fish at least twice a week. Check out Fish 101 for specific consumption recommendations.
When it comes to supplementation, there currently is no recommendation but the Food and Drug Administration classifies three grams per day as "safe”. According to the American Heart Association, people taking more than 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids from capsules should do so only under a physician’s care. High intakes could cause excessive bleeding in some people.
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, dietary supplements should be taken only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.