People take fish oil for various reasons: Inflammation, performance, heart health, cognitive function, to name a few.
But now, a new reason (or two) enter the fold…
Research published in JAMA (The Journal of American Medical Association) earlier this fall (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2702216) suggests fish oil helps people who suffer from anxiety.
The research involved a review of 19 previous fish oil studies. Specifically, it revealed that taking 2,000 mg/day of fish oil provided the best results for anxiety-sufferers. And fish oil supplements that contained less than 60 percent EPA provided the best results.
EPA and DHA are the two fatty acids found in fish oil. Getting the right ratio of these Omega-3 fatty acids is important. Your desired ratio of each of these fatty acids might vary depending on what you’re taking fish oil for.
For example, it’s usually recommended that if you’re taking fish oil for heart health, you should take 0.6 to 4 grams of an equal blend between EPA and DHA. If you’re taking it to improve your mood, you should take 1 gram per day and it should be higher in EPA than DHA. And if you’re a pregnant or breastfeeding woman, your fish oil supplement should be higher in DHA than EPA.
Read more about EPA versus DHA here: (https://igennus.com/nutrition/omega-3-science/epa-vs-dha/). You can also read more in this piece we wrote about fish oil (link to July 2018 #9 blog).
How does fish oil help anxiety?
The theory goes like this: In your brain, there’s a structure called amygdala. Basically it’s an almond-shaped set of neurons. This set of neurons are responsible for how we process fearful thoughts.
Of course, we need the amygdala because it protects us when there are real fears present, but it can also backfire in some cases. Those with extreme anxiety have an overactive amygdala, hence the anxiety they feel.
Dopamine affects how our amygdala responds to certain situations. If dopamine is low, then the amygdala increases its activity. People who are anxious or depressed tend to have low levels of dopamine.
Circling back to fish oil: Fish oil supplements are known to regulate dopamine in the body, which then help regulate the amygdala.
Dopamine isn’t the only chemical fish oil can affect. Seratonin is another. It’s the chemical that’s responsible for our moods. If you don’t get enough Omega-3 fatty acids, serotonin gets blocked. So again, fish oil comes in with all its Omega-3 fatty acids to ensure serotonin levels are where they should be. As a result your mood stays free of anxiety.
Or at least, that’s the theory…
The recent research about fish oil and anxiety isn’t alone. Another 2011 paper published Brain, Behavior, and Immunity (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3191260/) also showed a link between fish oil and both inflammation and anxiety in medical students.
What’s particularly interesting in the case of the above research is that high inflammation in the body is linked to both anxiety and depression, so perhaps because fish oil helps decrease inflammation, this means it also helps reduce your chances of anxiety in the process?
Check out this further research about fish oil and inflammation (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16531187).
As always, take new science with a grain of salt, but if there’s a well-researched supplement out there, it’s fish oil.