Mental Health Awareness Month: Increase Omega 3's to Decrease Depression

Kara Bauer Health Guide
  • Although there are many degrees, causes and treatments for depression, studies show that there may be a connection between omega-3 levels and mental health. Omega-3s have long been associated with strong cardiovascular health, but the benefits for those who are clinically depressed or going through seasonal or circumstantial lows, are just beginning to be understood.

    The first step to understanding the importance of omega-3 fatty acids is to understand the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. An ideal ratio is 1:1 (although a recommendation of 2.3:1 is generally recommended) and what is thought to have been the ratio of our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors. However, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported in 2000 that 60% of the population consumes a ratio closer to 8-12:1. Now, ten years later, research indicates that average ratios are closer to 20:1 or even higher.

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    The abundant use of vegetable oils in our modern day food supply is the primary source and cause of this great imbalance. Oils such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower, cottonseed and peanut are all high in omega-6 fatty acids. While omega-3s are typically found in plant sources such as flax, walnuts, hemp as well as fish. Even though fish sources provide a direct source of both EPA & DHA (EPA potentially having the highest effect on depression and mood), while plant sources provide ALA, which converts to EPA & DHA, the high levels of mercury worldwide make fish an unhealthy source for daily requirements. Also keep in mind that grain- fed animal products further disrupt the ratio. For example, grain-fed cattle can have ratios of 21:1 where grass-fed/free-range have ratios closer to 3:1.

    Research shows that those with severe depression have lower levels of omega-3 in their blood. Studies also indicate that omega-3s can impact brain function including serotonin. Recent findings have shown that omega-3 supplements can decrease symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. The relationship between depression and omega-3 is an important one that I feel should be considered by anyone experiencing mood disorders.

    So what are your best sources for omega 3s? For non-vegetarians, most will agree that fish oils free of mercury are a great option. However, in order to find out if a particular brand of fish oil is safe for daily use, you may need to do a bit of your own company research. Cod liver oil, fish or salmon oil and krill oil (recommended strongly by Dr. Joseph Mercola based on his extensive analysis of this topic) are all good options. However, the ratio of Vitamin A to Vitamin D in cod liver oils (not found in fish or krill oils) may produce toxicity and should be considered when choosing an omega 3 supplement. Although I can’t personally recommend a brand to use, there is some great research out there that will lead you in the right direction.

    For vegetarians and vegans, your best bet is flax and hemp seed. Although these seeds provide short chain omega 3 fatty acids (ACL) as indicated above and must therefore be converted, Dr. Gabriel Cousens suggests coconut oil to improve conversion rates up to 10%. His recommendation is to consume 3-6 Tbsp of flax with 1-2 Tbsp of coconut oil for best results.


  • In addition to focusing on increased consumption of omega-3, it’s important to also think about reducing your omega-6 consumption. Alternative good fats to the omega-6 oils mentioned above are extra virgin olive oil (which mostly contains omega-9s, essential to preventing heart disease, but also produced naturally in the body with adequate levels of omega 3 and 6) and coconut oil, your best oil to cook with, as it’s not susceptible to oxidative damage when heated.

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    Sources:

    -American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 71, No. 1, 179-188, January 2000
    -Research News, Ohio State University
    -Science Daily, November, 2004
    -www.drmercola.com
    -Fat in a Live Food Diet by Dr. Gabriel Cousens, www.treeoflife.nu

Published On: May 13, 2010