Fish Oil and Anxiety: Is your Brain Fat Enough?

fishoilanxiety

Fish oil and anxiety what’s the connection?…..More than half of the brain’s dry weight comes from fat. Some of these fats are the key building blocks of cell membranes and play essential roles in the brain’s function. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, help form cell membranes, keep those membranes flexible, prevent “leakage” of neurotransmitters, regulate the flow of hormones and other chemical messengers, which affect our mood as well as our immune system.

Research has suggested that omega-3 fatty acids or essential fatty acids (EFAs), can help lowered cholesterol, regulate heartbeat, and thin the blood, thereby lessening the risk of heart disease. According to neuroscientist Andrew L. Stoll, MD, of Harvard Medical School, who has studied the effects of omega-3s on Major Depression. A few promising studies suggest that natural sources of omega-3s- especially fish oil- may help bring mood back into balance. This does not mean that we can do away with antidepressants and mood stabilizers, but patients who suffer from depression or mood swings do far better when Omega 3 Fish Oil is added to their regimen.

The Case for Fish Oil and Fish Oil Supplements

For many years, few scientists cared about the most abundant substance in the brain. Researchers hoping to understand depression usually talked about neurons and hormones and d neurotransmitters- not fat. But fats moved toward the spotlight in 1993 when Stoll, a psychiatrist at Harvard’s McLean Hospital, started searching for a new treatment for bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. Stoll is technically a psycho pharmacologist A( a physician specializing in medication treatments), and he knew that medication treatment of mood swings and depression often did not work as well as expected until dietary modifications sere made such as y adding Omega 3 Fish Oil.

Working with German researchers, Stoll did an extensive computer search for a compound that was similar in action to lithium and anticonvulsants. After reviewing hundreds of papers, they found one especially good- if unexpected- match: fish oil. Like both the available treatments, fish oil worked to stabilize the walls of nerve cells.

“At first our reaction was surprise and disbelief,” writes Stoll in his new book, The Omega3 Connection. At the time, only a handful of scientists had suspected that fish oil or any other source of omega-3 fatty acids could act to stabilize mood.

Omega-3 Fish Oil are among the essential nutrients humans need to survive but cannot synthesize. These essential nutrients include all vitamins and minerals, eight of the 20 amino acids (including lysine, valine and leucine), and some (but not all) polyunsaturated fatty acids, including the omega-3 group. Just as a shortage of vitamin C can cause scurvy, there are signs that a shortage of omega-3s can be hard on the brain. A study published in the March 1999 issue of Psychiatry Research found that people suffering major depression tend to have relatively low levels of omega-3s.

What is the Research on depression and omega-3s?

Can fish oil supplements ease depression? Stoll Believes the answer s a cautious “yes,” but is quick to add that more studies are needed. Several teams of researchers are currently testing fish oil as a remedy for depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Until those results come in, the jury on fish oil is still out. Still, the research that has been done to date suggest that omega-3s may have important implications for our both depression and our overall health.

As reported in the May 1999 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, Stoll and Colleagues found that large doses of fish oil supplements significantly eased the symptoms of severe bipolar disorder, even in some patients who weren’t responding to drug treatment. The study (a double-blind, placebo-controlled study), which measured traits of relapse into mania; involved 30 patients whose symptoms were not abated by their medications. Fourteen of the subjects started taking a hefty 10 grams of fish oil supplements every day, some while using other medications and some using the fish oil supplements alone, while the rest took olive oil. After four months of treatment, 12 of the 14 patients taking fish oil capsules reported fewer symptoms of depression, and only two had suffered a manic-depressive episode since the study began. In contrast, only three of the 16 patients taking the olive oil placebo said they felt any better and nine had major attacks. Researchers stopped the study early, partly because it seemed unethical to withhold fish oil supplements from any of the patients. In one case, a participant came to the study with a treatment-resistant case of bipolar disorder marked by what Stoll described as violent rages and crime sprees. “When given the opportunity to participate in our fish oil study, he was eager indeed,” Stoll writes. “The fish oil was a charm. Participating in our double-blind study, he had no way of knowing that whatever we were giving him, it worked! His mood swings and rages stopped abruptly and he felt well for the first time in his life. He has remained on fish oil supplements for three years.”

Can I get enough omega-3s just by eating fish?

It’s hard to get enough omega-3 fatty acids just by eating a normal diet. Foods that contain them in abundant amounts include salmon and other cold-water fish such as sardines, wild game and free-range livestock- not exactly the most popular items on the typical American’s menu.

To get the amount of omega-3s used by Stoll and other researchers in his study, you’d have to eat six to 32 cans of tuna a day- a fairly unappetizing prospect, no matter how much you like tuna melts. (Since some tuna is contaminated with PCBs and small amounts of heavy metals such as mercury, you’d also put yourself at risk to eat that much.) However one fish is safe: Sardines packed in olive oil, not water. Sardines are rich in Omega 3’s, phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylserine all of which stabilize the cellular membranes of both neurons and cardiac cells.

What is the difference between omega-3s and other essential fatty acids?

Essential fatty acids come in two main types: omega-6s, which promote inflammation, which is sometimes necessary to fight invaders in the body: and omega-3s, which decrease inflammation and promote flexible cell membranes. Omega-6s can be found in corn oil and other vegetable and seed oil: omega-3s are in cold water fish, wild game, walnuts, and certain kinds of seeds and vegetables. Both types are necessary for health, and at a recent international conference, omega3 researchers agreed that for optimum heath, omega -3 and omega-6 fatty acids should be eaten in roughly equal proportions, or a one to one ratio.Unfortunately, with the advent of processed and “fast” food the Western diet is heavily slanted toward omega-6s, typically providing a ration of 10 or 20 to one. Researchers speculate, in fact that this imbalance has contributed to inflammatory diseases a rise in the rates of depression in the United States.

Should I take fish oil?

You shouldn’t take fish oil capsules for depression or any other condition without consulting a doctor, according to Stoll. He also cautions depressed or bipolar patients not to stop using their medications. That step could cause serious problems, and it must be remembered that fish oil supplements are generally used as an addition to therapy rather that as a replacement. But fish oil may be a welcome addition to current treatments, he adds. If you are depressed, talk with your doctor about omega-3s: You may be able to take fish oil as a valuable adjunct to your therapy.

Aside from the hit to the pocketbook, there’s little downside to fish oil supplements. The over the counter supplements combine will with most medications, with one notable exception: blood thinners. People taking warfarin (Coumadin), high-dose aspirin , or any other blood thinner should always consult her physicians prior to taking fish oil supplements, since omega-3 also act to temporarily block platelet clumping.

The majority of people taking fish oil supplements develop loose stools, and some experience problematic diarrhea or nausea. You can help minimize these side effects by taking a small dose with every meal instead of one big dose on an empty stomach. You should also take vitamin C, vitamin E and Co-Enzyme Q10 supplements to prevent oxidization of the fatty acids and as powerful anti-oxidants (free radical scavengers). Add to these supplements Resveratrol 200 mg daily and your depression, mood swings and anxiety will improve substantially.

Whatever product you buy, try to ingest one or two grams (1,000 to 2,000 milligrams) of Omega-3 fish oil supplements every day. The results may surprise you.

M.J. Gimeno MD

Doctor Gimeno sees the value in holistic treatment and has a thorough understanding of pharmaceuticals and there effects on our brain chemistry. For more information about Dr. Gimeno and his practice please go to Panic Attack

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Michelle Toole

Michelle Toole is the founder and head editor of Healthy Holistic Living. Learn all about her life's inspiration and journey to health and wellness.
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