Fish oil and depression - what is the relation?
Fish intake and depression prevalence are related as the research shows that the societies having high consumption of fish have relatively decreased prevalence of depression and suicidal thinking in their general population.
Fish/fish oil and depression relation was further investigated and it was found that fish contains some very good fatty acids that help in the improvement of the mood. These are called the omega 3 fatty acids which include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and decosahexaenoic acid (DHA). It is believed that due to these fatty acids the fish oil exerts its antidepressant effects.
It is important to understand that when we talk about the fish oil and depression it is actually these polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), EPA and DHA that are the main factors.
We need these omega 3 fatty acids and they are not produced in the human body therefore we have to depend on external sources.
We can get omega 3 fatty acids from the plants as well. But the omega 3 fatty acid obtained from the plant source is alpha linolenic acid( ALA). ALA is converted in the body to DHA but this conversion rate is around 5-15% only.
Moreover according to recent meta-analysis EPA is more beneficial than DHA in the treatment of depression.
Fish or fish oil contains these preformed omega 3 fatty acids(EPA and DHA) in good quantity thus it has gained the importance.
These omega 3 fatty acids bring positive change in the membranes of the neurons (brain cells) and improve the functioning of the neurotransmitters (chemicals) in the brain.
They also inhibit the activity of the chemicals (cytokines) in the brain that are believed to worsen the depression thus exerting their antidepressant effects.
Fish must be included in the diet and not all fish are rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Tuna, mackerel, cod liver, mullet and their oils besides other cold water fish are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids.
If you consume 3.5 ounce of fish, it will provide you around 1 gm of omega 3 fatty acids. Fish is also beneficial for heart diseases and people who consume fish live a healthier and a longer life.
Consumption of fish is also found to be protective against the development of postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder and bipolar disorder.
It is noteworthy that it is the dose of the omega 3 fatty acids (EPA+DHA) that is important and not the quantity of the fish oil. Therefore always look for the dose of EPA and DHA in each serving on the labeling.
The exact dose is still not clear but research studies have found that 300mg to 500mg of EPA+DHA per day has been beneficial in depression. Some studies suggest up to 1gm per day.
I would suggest that very high doses( >4gm/day) should be avoided as they may result in peroxidation reactions and the research is still going on to find the best dose. Low to normal doses may be consumed and are safe.
The common side effects observed are bloating, gas, belching and diarrhea.
The omega 3 fatty acids can interact with the following medicines, therefore care should be taken.
1. Blood thinning agents like Aspirin,clopedigrel and warfarin. If used together with omega 3 fatty acid supplements there may be increased risk of bleeding.
2. Anti-diabetics like glucophage(Metformin), glipizide, glyburide and insulin. If used together with omega 3 fatty acids supplements, you may need to increase the dose of your medicine. Always consult your physician.
Fish oil supplements provide a better option as an add on therapy for the treatment of depression and they have been found better than a placebo.
However, the matter is still under research and there are no recommendations for the monotherapy (as a single agent) of fish oil supplements for the treatment of depression.
Fish oil supplements as add-on therapy are showing promising results.
Have you used Fish oil for your depression treatment? Share your experience in the comments, I would like to hear from you!