Omega-3s Could Have Mental Health Benefits Too, Research Finds
Inflammation doesn't affect just our physical health but our mental health, too. As we learn more about how diet and subsequent inflammation affect our mental well-being, the importance of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle is becoming increasingly apparent. And according to new research published in Molecular Psychiatry, omega-3 fatty acids are a valuable part of the equation.
Looking at the effects of omega-3s.
Previous research has indicated that people with major depressive disorder have higher levels of inflammation than those without. So in this new study by researchers from King's College London, The University of Manchester, and China Medical University, they wanted to see if two known anti-inflammatory omega-3s—eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—could protect the brain from inflammation.
They treated human hippocampal cells with EPA or DHA and then exposed those cells to cytokines (which are involved with inflammation) to see how the cells would hold up after the treatment.
They also looked at 22 people with depression who were given 3 grams of EPA or 1.4 grams of DHA every day for 12 weeks to see if there would be an improvement in symptoms.
What they found.
In the hippocampal cell portion of the study, researchers observed that EPA or DHA prevented increased cell death and decreased neurogenesis in the hippocampal cells. This, they found, was due to new lipid mediators formed in the brain.
And in the patient study, supplementing with those same omega-3s was associated with reduced depressive symptoms—an average reduction of 64% for EPA and 71% for DHA, to be exact.
As lead author of the study Alessandra Borsini, Ph.D., explains in a news release, "Our study has provided exciting new insight into how omega-3 fatty acids bring about anti-inflammatory effects that improve depression," adding now that the mechanism behind those effects is understood, it can "inform the development of potential new treatments for depression using omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids."
The bottom line.
The study authors note that more research is necessary to further understand their findings—and to inform approaches to treatment. They also add supplementing omega-3s would likely be necessary, in order to get the amount the participants in the study were taking.
Long story short: As we learn more about brain inflammation as it relates to depression, the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids may play an important role in the development of treatment and managing depressive symptoms.