How Fish Oils Reduce the Symptoms of Depression and Bi-Polar Disorder


A number of studies have found that cooking and eating fish may help in easing depression. An article published by CBN states that in Greenland, where Eskimos consume around 7-10g of omega-3 fats per day, very low instances of depression are reported. It also reports that New Zealanders experience fifty times more depression than in Japan – and they also eat the least amount of fish in the industrialized world. The Japanese incidentally, eat around 3 ounces of oily fish daily. Could their differences in mental health be due to coincidence, or genes? Research suggests neither.

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In a press release by the British Trout Association, Professor Michael Crawford, Director of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at North London University makes the point that in Prehistoric times, humans evolved as fish eaters. They speared salmon from cold running waters or mackerel from the sea. He warns, “If we don’t go back to our fish eating days, evolution is in danger of going into reverse.”

Our brain has evolved to expect a diet of oils. Over the years, people have relied on a more processed diet and our brains are now out of kilter, resulting in higher rates of depression.

Omega 3 Fats Help to Increase Grey Matter in the Brain

A study by the University of Pittsburgh Medical School confirms that the brain physically “grows” in people on a diet containing oily fish. Researchers asked a group of subjects to keep a diary with the food they ate over 24 hours on two random days. They then looked at the participants’ brains with imaging equipment. Those who ate foods containing more oily fish (rich in omega-3 fats) actually had more grey matter than those who did not.

More interestingly, it was noted that this grey matter developed in the three parts of the brain identified to have an effect on mood. These are the amygdala, hippocampus and cingulate. Seriously depressed people have been shown to have less grey matter in these areas. The name “brain food” has been used for years to describe a meal of fish. It now seems that the term is well justified.

Fish Oils Reduce the Symptoms of Depression and Bi-Polar Disorder

As well as physically altering the brain, omega-3 fats can also help restore balance mentally. Dr Stoll and his researchers, in a study reported by the Archives of General Psychiatry in May 1999, examined the effect of fish oil supplements on those suffering from serious bi-polar disorder. Bi-polar sufferers experience very low, depressed moments and then are on a very high mood, and then crash back down to a depressive state.

Stoll took two groups of people with this condition, and gave one half a fish oil supplement, and the other half a placebo. At the end of the study eleven out of the fourteen in the group taking the omega-3 rich fish oil reported that they felt better. In the group taking the placebo, which did not include any omega-3, only three out of the sixteen noted an improvement in their symptoms and nine people in the group reported having major attacks.

These results show that fish oil can have a large effect on well-being. Adding omega-3 rich fats to the diet can help, but in order to achieve the levels from this study, which used supplements, people would need to eat massively excessive amounts of fish – which could have detrimental effects on health as it can contain minute levels of pollution harmful in very large amounts. Stoll’s study shows that fish oil supplements containing omega-3 may be a beneficial way to enhance our intake of this vital nutrient.

Omega-3 For a Happy Mind

The evidence is clear. Those populations that eat more fatty fish in their diet have lower rates of depression than other places in the world. It has been proved that they have more grey matter in the important parts of their brains that govern mood and mental health. And finally, that a regular dose of concentrated omega-3 found in fish oil supplements can ease the symptoms of depression.

Before taking any supplements it is important, as the researchers of these studies are careful to note, to consult your doctor. However this research does indicate that perhaps we should return to the food we have evolved on and eat more oily fish – the recommended 2-3 times per week. Good sources include tasty salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies, mackerel and rainbow trout. This seems the most natural way to increase our intake of those all important Omega-3 oils.

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