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How Does Omega-3 Help with Depression?

Depression is something that affects many people throughout their lives, whether they have Major Depressive Disorder, or are dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic or life changing event. It is one of the most common mental-health disorders and is the leading cause of disability in the world, affecting 5.0% of adults globally. 

While it may seem strange that something as simple as a common daily supplement can help relieve symptoms of such a debilitating disorder, there is a large amount of evidence that omega-3 supplements can help to relieve depression symptoms. 

This article will cover everything you need to know about the potentials of an omega-3 supplement such as fish oil being used for depression treatment.

Keep reading to find out more about:

  • How omega-3 helps with depression
  • Omega-3 supplement dosage for depression
  • Potential side effects of fish oil

So, how does omega-3 help with depression?

Why omega-3s may be a promising natural treatment for depression. 

Omega-3s are essential for a properly functioning brain. Up to 20% of the brain is made up of fatty acids, making omega-3s incredibly important for brain health. Two of the three main types of omega-3s in the human diet are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), both of which are found in fish oil supplements at varying levels. 

Dopamine and serotonin are the neurotransmitters suspected to be linked to depression. These chemicals are tasked with carrying signals between nerve cells and initiating certain functions. 

Some of the functions of serotonin include:

  • Mood regulation
  • Influence over quality of sleep
  • Promotes healthy digestion

Some of the functions of dopamine include:

  • Promotes feelings of pleasure, motivation, and satisfaction
  • Assists with short-term memory
  • Supports coordination

For these two neurotransmitters the signals they transmit are linked to happiness and a sense of wellbeing. In individuals with depression, the levels of dopamine and serotonin are too low to allow the signal to be transmitted, thus reducing their ability to feel happy or content. 

Where Omega-3 fatty acids may help to fix this issue is in the nerve cell membranes. Increasing the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids can help to soften the membrane of the nerve cell, allowing neurotransmitters to carry their signals easier and allowing it to be received and acted upon. 

While more research is needed for conclusive evidence, an overview of research from 2004 found that individuals who struggled with minor depression, prenatal depression, and suicidal ideation had lower levels of EPA and DHA. Despite the need for more research, the current evidence suggests a strong possibility of fish oil being a good treatment for certain types of depression. 

Studies suggest omega-3s may be an option for treatment of depression.
Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world, but treatments such as fish oil supplements may provide hope to those struggling with the illness. It is the omega-3 found in fish oil that may help with depression. 

Omega-3 fish oil dosage for depression

Dosage recommendations for Omega-3 fish oil supplements

The most common omega-3 supplement is fish oil. This supplement has long been on the market for dietary supplements and has proven to provide many benefits including improving cardiovascular health, high blood pressure, and rheumatoid arthritis. 

While the research into fish oil as a treatment for depression has not concluded on a specific dosage for fish oil, the National Institute of Health recommends about 9.3 grams (9,300mg) of fish oil per day for individuals with depression.

Other recommendations from health professionals and research recommend between 100-300mg per day though it is acknowledged that more research is necessary to determine an appropriate amount. 

Ultimately, it is best for each individual to discuss dosage with their healthcare provider, as fish oil may interact with certain medications or may impact other medical conditions as well. 

Potential side effects of fish oil

Common side effects of fish oil are usually mild

While fish oil is incredibly beneficial in many ways and has great potential to provide natural relief for individuals with depression, there are some common side effects that, though mild, should be noted. 

The most common side effects of fish oil include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn
  • Fish-like taste in mouth
  • Abdominal pain

These side effects may vary depending on the amount of fish oil taken. Some side effects of fish oil can be avoided with proper storage of the supplements. Fish oil supplements should be refrigerated or frozen and kept away from light and oxygen, as they can easily spoil under heat or light. If your supplements smell poorly (i.e. rancid) discontinue use and get new supplements. 

Other ways to relieve unpleasant side effects of fish oil such as heartburn or abdominal pain include taking the supplement with food or taking the supplement in smaller doses throughout the day. 

Omega-3 supplements like fish oil contain many benefits aside from relieving depression symptoms.
Omega-3s such as fish oil have many benefits that go beyond mental health improvement. 

Depression is an incredibly complex and difficult disorder to live with. While there are a variety of factors, many of which can be extremely intertwined together, that cause depression there are also a variety of options for people suffering from this disorder. 

Fish oil may not be the cure-all for depression, but it certainly has its place in treatment options for the more easily treatable types of depression. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression and looking into treatment options, it is best to consult your healthcare provider or psychiatrist to discuss treatment options such as fish oil. 

It is also incredibly important to know that since many supplements are not regulated by the FDA, discussing supplement brands with a Registered Dietitian or MD is important before purchasing a supplement. 

As the most popular non-vitamin supplement on the market, fish oil has long been known for its incredible benefits and continues to show potential benefits in many areas of health and wellness. Talk to your healthcare provider today about the possibility of using fish oil supplements to improve depressive symptoms. 

You should consult a licensed health care professional before starting any supplement, dietary, or exercise program, especially if you are pregnant or have any pre-existing injuries or medical conditions.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.

Author: Dr. Emil Hodzovic

Holding degrees in both medicine and Sports + Exercise Science from renowned research institution Cardiff University, Dr. Emil Hodzovic has the dual distinction of being a practicing clinician and respected authority in nutrition and supplementation.

During his parallel careers as a personal trainer and professional athlete, Dr. Emil recognized a critical flaw in the supplement space: too much emphasis on appearance and performance—and zero concern for making holistic health and happiness accessible to everyone.

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