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Omega-3 May Relieve Symptoms of Depression


vitamin D Depression is all-too common in the United States.

Nearly 15 million American adults suffer from major depression—that’s nearly seven percent of the population.1 Worse yet, according to the World Health Organization, “In the year 2020, depressive disorder will be the illness with the highest burden of disease.”2

This makes sense when you consider that depression often goes hand-in-hand with many devastating illnesses, including cancer, stroke, heart attack, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and HIV.3 But there’s another tie as well.

Research has also shown that people with depressive disorder have a significant decrease in key neuronal and glial cells in the cortico-limbic areas of the brain. These are the very regions responsible for emotion, behavior and motivation.2 Researchers suggest that this decrease is likely triggered by an increase in free radicals, which in turns leads to oxidative stress and cell death of these critical brain cells.

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But what if something could stop this free radical damage in the brain? More specifically, could a brain-healthy nutrient such as omega-3 fatty acids work to lower oxidative stress and, by default, also improve depression? Researchers from Boston set out to determine exactly that.4

Omega-3s and the Brain

Omega-3 fatty acids (or EFAs) consist primarily of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPAs are your heart-healthy fats. They also promote healthy skin, hormonal balance and immune function. Plus, EPA produces serotonin, the “happy” neurotransmitter.

DHA, on the other hand, is a natural brain booster. Your brain needs DHA to create healthy nerve cell membranes. Your brain uses nerve cells for mood, attention and memory. In fact, research has shown that DHA plays a protective role against age-related cognitive decline and keeps these neurons functioning properly.

Given this, it’s no wonder researchers were interested in omega-3s potential effect on depression.

Simple Test, Big Results

In the study, researchers looked at 787 people from the Boston Puerto Rican Health Study with an average age of 57 years.4 Of these, 73 percent were women.

Researchers tested the participants for a variety of biomarkers, including:

  • Urinary 8-OHdG concentration (a marker of oxidative stress)
  • Fatty acid composition
  • Omega-3 index (sum of EPA and DHA)

They also noted depression symptoms—using the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression Scale (CES-D)—at baseline and again after two years.

Researchers found that the omega-3 index was inversely associated with depression scores in those people with the highest 8-OhdG levels. In other words, in those people who had the greatest amount of oxidative stress, depression scores were higher and omega-3 levels were lower.

Researchers concluded, “These data suggest that oxidative stress status may identify those who might benefit from omega-3 FA consumption to improve depressive symptoms.”

Fish On!

If you have struggled with depression or depressive symptoms, try adding more omega-3s to your diet. Omega-3s are most abundant in fish and fish oil supplements. The colder the water a fish lives in, the more omega-3s its body possesses to keep it warm in that chilly habitat.

The best cold-water fish options include salmon, halibut, mackerel, sardines, tuna and trout. Other aquatic creatures rich in omega-3s include algae and krill.

You can also use omega-3 EFAs in supplement form. If using fish oil, aim for 1,000-1,500 mg of omega-3s a day, with 600-700 mg of EPA and 400-500 mg of DHA per serving. If you prefer krill oil, aim for 1,000-1,500 mg per day.


1. Kessler RC, et al. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27.
2. Michel TM, et al. Curr Pharm Des. 2012;18(36):5890-9.
4. Bigornia SL, et al. J Nutr. 2016 Apr 1;146(4):758-66.

Kimberly Day Kimberly Day has spent the past 15 years uncovering natural and alternative health solutions. She was the managing editor for several of the world’s largest health newsletters including those from Dr. Susan Lark, Dr. Julian Whittaker and Dr. Stephen Sinatra. She has also penned several health-related newsletter and magazine articles, co-authored the book the Hormone Revolution with Dr. Susan Lark, contributed articles to Lance Armstrong’s consumer site, and created a number of health-related websites and blogs.

For tips, tools and strategies to address your most pressing health concerns and make a positive difference in your life, visit Peak Health Advocate.

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