Alternatively, There's Omega-3.
It's difficult to pinpoint an exact time when the health benefits of Omega-3 started to hit home, after all, the positive effects of these long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids have been known for decades. A turning point could well be the 1970s when researchers questioned why some people on the planet appeared to have virtually no heart disease while plenty others were dying from it. In one study it was found that the Greenland Inuit Tribe consumed large quantities of fat from seafood, but had low heart rates, normal blood pressure and virtually no fatty deposits in their blood vessels. A lot has been learned about Omega-3 fatty acids since then. Today, researchers are openly discussing possible anti-cancer effects, cardiovascular disease prevention, improved immune function, and even relief from major depression.
It isn't fully clear how Omega-3 affects the brain but one theory suggests it assists the flow of electrical signals between brain cells. For signals to enter a nerve cell they first have to pass across the membrane that surrounds each cell. These cell membranes are made up of fats, about 20 per cent of which are essential fatty acids. Omega-3 may make the membranes more elastic and so enable electrical impulses to transfer more freely.
Recent news from the largest clinical study to assess Omega-3 with people with major depression shows promising results. The study, published in the June 15 edition of online Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, found that use of Omega-3 was comparable to conventional antidepressant treatment. Of note however, is the fact that treatment only appears to be effective in depression unaccompanied by anxiety.
Between October 2005 to January 2009, 432 participants with major unipolar depression, many of whom were treatment resistant to conventional antidepressants, participated in the randomized, double-blind study. For a period of eight weeks half they took three capsules of fish oil a day. The capsules contained high concentrations of eicosapentaenioc acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) - 1050 mg and 150 mg respectively. The remaining participants received a placebo capsule containing only a trace of fish oil.
DHA is currently thought of as the building blocks of the brain and is why pregnant mothers are encouraged to have an adequate intake. EPA is considered by many doctors to be a vital nutrient for the brain and for nerve stimulation. Put another way, DHA is for structure and EPA is for function. Diet is a vital component of mental health and the evidence to date suggests that EPA has a significant role.
Before we get too excited let me first point out a couple of things. First, the regulatory agencies currently accept there is sufficient evidence that Omega-3 can help with the prevention of cardiovascular disease, but that in other areas, more evidence is needed. Secondly, not all fish oils are the same. Simply getting a bottle of fish oil capsules from your local supermarket may not do the job. It's not for me to recommend or suggest particular brands, only to point out that current thinking suggests that brands with relative high levels of EPA seem to perform the best.
Overall, the current perspective is one of cautious optimism as research trials continue. One of the next obvious steps would seem to be a research trial examining the effects of higher or lower doses of EPA and then, further down the line, one that directly compares the effects of Omega-3 with conventional antidepressant medication.
Lesperance, F., Frasure-Smith, N., St-Andre, E., Turecki, G., Lesperance, P., Wisniewski, S.R (2010) The Efficacy of Omega-3 Supplementation for Major Depression: A Randomized Control Trial. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.