Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to provide numerous benefits to the body. They offer a protective effect for the heart, help lower cholesterol, and ease joint pain; but can omega-3 fats also benefit the mind? Research shows they can. A variety of studies suggest that diets rich in omega-3 fats might help prevent certain mental disorders including depression. One British study found that an omega-3 fatty acid called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) might be more effective for treating depression than prescribed medicines. In light of this, people struggling with how to deal with depression might consider regular consumption of omega-3 fats.
Fatty acids make up about 20 percent of brain cell membranes, and replenishment is crucial for the maintenance of a healthy brain and nervous system. Because the body does not make fatty acids, people must get them from dietary sources. Some experts recommend an equal balance of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fats can be found in corn oil, cottonseed oil, and soybean oil, ingredients present in many processed foods. Because processed foods make up such a large portion of the typical American diet, the ratios of omega-6 fatty acids are far too high in many people.
The imbalance causes inflammation in the body, which can lead to a wide range of health problems from physical to mental. Reducing the amount of processed foods consumed and adding foods rich in omega-3s can help restore a healthy fatty acid balance in the body.
Good Dietary Sources of Omega-3 Fats
To boost the amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, people can add certain types of cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Many experts recommend two to three servings of fish per week for optimal health. Other foods rich in omega-3s include walnuts, leafy greens, and ground flaxseed.
Additional Mental Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fats
In addition to reducing symptoms of depression, omega-3 fats offer a few other mental health benefits. While doctors do not recommend omega-3 as a mood swings treatment, it has been shown to reduce the depressive effects of bipolar disorder when combined with lithium. Many researchers also suspect the omega-3 fatty acid DHA may offer a protective effect against Alzheimer's disease and dementia.