It’s no secret that what we eat can impact how we feel—ever notice how hard it is to get up on Monday after an indulgent weekend or how irritable your juice-cleansing friends can be in the hour before cashew milk-o’clock? And ladies, how about those monthly food cravings and mood changes?
In today’s quick-fix culture, when we feel down in the dumps, we can be hasty to ring up our doctor for a prescription before looking at what’s on our plate—and what could be missing.
Part of the process of building new cells and helping the body absorb nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids are essential to many basic body processes, including eye health, neurological function, and mood regulation.
Intake of omega-3 via food sources and/or supplements have been extensively studied as potential treatments for various conditions.
These studies have shown an association between low omega-3 levels and depression, ADHD, and other behavioral conditions.
This suggests that consuming adequate omega-3’s, especially from fish, may be a factor in helping prevent depression. Other studies have demonstrated improvement of depressive symptoms through supplementation, either as a stand-alone treatment or as an addition to medication.
A randomized double blind controlled pilot trial in which some subjects received omega-3 supplementation also found that omega-3 fatty acids were associated with a decrease of psychiatric symptoms of PMS (depression, anxiety, lack of concentration) and possibly physical symptoms like bloating and breast tenderness.
Great, so how does this work?
Research has shown omega-3’s may help manage psychological and behavioral conditions because of their role in neurotransmitter function.
A neurotransmitter is a chemical substance in the body that carries a signal from one nerve cell to another. Serotonin and dopamine are two neurotransmitters closely linked to mood regulation. The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3’s can impact their function, which helps moderate mood and behavior.
Omega-3 supplementation is an attractive treatment option for those with minor depression or those interested in preventing depression because it’s readily available and less expensive than prescription medications and may be well tolerated without a lot of side effects.
However, psychiatric medications hold a very important place in the treatment of depression, and it’s important to discuss the pros and cons of various treatment options with your doctor.
Sources of Omega-3’s Start with Food
Omega-3s are an unsaturated fatty acid found in various plants and animals. There are 3 types of omega-3s: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).
EPA and DHA are found mainly in certain fish as well as in beef and chicken. Grass-fed animals tend to have a higher amount and produce milk and eggs higher in omega-3’s. ALA is found in plant sources like walnuts, flax and chia seeds but also in some fish and meat.
The EPA and DHA forms of omega-3 have been found to have the greatest impact/potential benefit, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore plant sources of ALA—just know that the body has to go through a few extra steps to make omega-3s in the body, so you may need to eat slightly more.
Food sources of Omega-3s:
• Fish: Salmon, Sardines, Mackerel, Fresh Tuna, Trout, Herring, Halibut, Oysters, Shrimp
• Flax seeds
• Chia seeds
• Soy beans
Food companies may also add omega-3's to their products. Check the nutrition and ingredients labels for details on a specific item. You may see this most commonly in:
Consider a supplement
Don’t like fish? No problem. Fish oil supplements are widely available. Vegetarian omega-3 supplements like flax oil or supplements derived from algae are other alternatives.
There is no set recommendation for supplementation, so aim for adequacy. 1-2 grams per day has been shown to be effective, but some doctors may recommend 3-4 grams.
It’s always important to check in with your medical practitioner about potential interactions with any medications or other supplements you may be on.
So, throw some salmon in your shopping cart or purchase grass-fed beef or milk at your local farmer’s market. It’s always nice to have another excuse to hit up oyster happy hour—just be careful not to overdo the alcohol, as this can dampen your mood. Have an egg with breakfast a few times a week or sprinkle walnuts, ground flax, or chia seeds over yogurt, oatmeal, or cereal.
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