Omega-3 Fatty Acids

“Fat” has become a bad word in our society, but the fact is a particular type of fat is so essential, that our body’s cells can literally collapse without it. Fish oil — with its singular component omega-3 fatty acids in conjunction with other types of fat in the membranes that surround the cells — literally control cell behavior. Fish oils are made up of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), critical in heart function, and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), critical in brain function. These oils are found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, as well as in supplements in gel cap form. Both DHA and EPA affect calcium, sodium, and potassium ion channels that regulate cellular electrical activity in the heart and the brain.

Omega-3 fatty acids are well established in improving nerve conduction, and they are well on their way to being recognized as effective in the management of depression by regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Studies have shown a correlation between low levels of omega-3s and depression, and trials using omega-3s are showing promising results as a treatment for depression.

For example, a 2002 study was conducted in England with 60 men and women suffering from treatment-resistant depression (depression that did not respond to conventional psychotropics). Those taking 1 gram of EPA per day showed significantly greater improvement on depression-measuring scales than did the placebo group.

In another study, this one of 30 patients with bipolar disorder led by a researcher at Harvard Medical School, the group that took 9.6 grams of omega-3 acids daily (EPA and DHA) showed “significant symptom reduction and a better outcome when compared to placebo [olive oil alone].” The conclusion was that the omega-3 fatty acids were well tolerated and improved the short-term course of illness.

The typical American diet is high in omega-6 compared to omega-3, prompting experts to recommend at least three servings of fish per week to maintain a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. While omega-6 oils (corn, soybean) can generate an inflammatory reaction, omega-3 oils found in cold-water fish work by subduing inflammation, which is why they are used to manage rheumatoid arthritis, certain cancers and Crohn’s disease. The human body can also manufacture omega-3s from walnuts and flaxseed.

Some nutritional experts claim that the rising rates of depression in this country can be partially explained by the rising ratios in omega-6 fatty acids. Although there is no conclusive proof of this theory, increasingly, health practitioners are recommending “mood enhancing diets” for their patients that include eating more fish and adding an omega-3 supplement. In Japan and other countries where fish consumption is high, the rates of depression and heart disease are comparatively low.

When considering an omega-3 supplement in gel cap form, your daily intake will be best guided by the fish oil content per capsule. I use a supplement which I purchase from Whole Foods that contains 600mg of fish oil per capsule.

I take two capsules in the morning and two in the evening for a total of 2400mg of fish oil content per day. Shoot for a goal of 2000mg of fish oil per day when utilizing an oral supplement. And if burping fish oil bothers you, freeze the capsules and take them that way.

Give them to your kids too! Dosing in children and adolescents should be about half that of adults; 1000 – 1200mg daily is sufficient. Regardless of age, we can all benefit from the healthiest cellular function possible.

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Joe Wegmann is a licensed clinical social worker and a clinical pharmacist with over 30 years of experience in counseling and medication treatment of depression and anxiety. Joe’s new book, www.pesi.com. To learn more about Joe’s programs or to contribute a question for Joe to answer in a future article, visit his website at www.thepharmatherapist.com, or e-mail him at joe@thepharmatherapist.com.