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Omega-3 Fish Oil for Mental Health

Omega-3 Fish Oil Might Help Your Depression & Anxiety

If your health is a priority, you’ve probably considered using one of the most popular supplements known as omega-3 fish oil.

I don’t blame you!

Fish oil has claims ranging from improving heart and brain health to treating symptoms of mood disorders like anxiety and depression. It’s thus, no mystery why fish oil is so popular.

However, with so many potential benefits, it’s essential to understand which are practical. This step is crucial for setting realistic expectations when using fish oil.

To come, I’ll discuss some mental health research investigating fish oil so you can better understand its benefits and limitations and ultimately, decide if it’s worth using in your routine.

However, with so many potential benefits, it’s essential to understand which are practical. This step is crucial for setting realistic expectations when using fish oil.

What’s The Deal With Omega-3s?

Despite the popularity of omega-3 fish oil, you may not have a full grasp of what fish oil even is.

Fish oil is a catchall term for the combination of two omega-3 fatty acids:

  • EPA or Eicosapentaenoic acid
  • DHA or Docosahexaenoic acid

Found most often in fish, krill, and phytoplankton, omega-3s are known as polyunsaturated fatty acids and are primarily responsible for the promoted health effects of fish oil.

As a result, you can typically satisfy your omega-3 needs through frequent fish consumption or with a daily fish oil supplement like fish or krill oil.

Is Fish Oil Good For Mental Health?

Due to its common association with mental health, you might wonder if there is a connection between omega-3 fish oil and mood disorders, like anxiety and depression.

Fortunately, scientists wonder about this connection, too, and have studied the topic extensively. However, the results of many of these studies reflect the complex nature of mental health disorders and don’t paint a clear picture.

Some studies show a positive impact of fish oil supplementation on feelings of depression and anxiety, while others aren’t as promising.

Some studies show a positive impact of fish oil supplementation on feelings of depression and anxiety.

These differences mean that individual responses to fish oil can vary significantly. But fortunately, that’s true for many anti-depressant medications as well.

Mostly, there’s potential for omega-3 fish oil to help you deal with anxiety and depression. However, because there are mixed findings, fish oil shouldn’t be a total replacement for other treatment options or perhaps, stronger medication.

Is Omega-3 Fish Oil Good For Depression?

The potential for fish oil to treat depression is exciting, but the science behind this benefit is a bit inconclusive.

Still, some small studies show improvements with fish oil use, while other in-depth meta-analyses suggest a less potent effect.

Depression, by nature, is a complex disorder, though. Consequently, how your depressive symptoms respond to fish oil might be different from another. Because depression is so subjective, the positive findings suggest that fish oil might still be worth trying.

Additionally, fish oil is known to only have few side effects including:

  1. The potential for “fishy burps”
  2. Stomach distress
  3. Potential risk of increased bleeding when taken with blood thinners

Otherwise, fish oil is considered safe, which means if you believe fish oil might help, there’s little downside of trying it.

Importantly, though, consider a few details before using fish oil to treat your depression:

  1. Studies report a more pronounced effect when fish oil is combined with established treatments, like anti-depressants.
  2. A higher EPA to DHA ratio might be more favorable for treating depressive symptoms.

Summary: Using fish oil rich in EPA and combining it with normal treatment is the smartest way to use fish oil to treat your depression potentially. However, recognize there are possible limitations.

How About Anxiety?

As you might know, depression and anxiety often appear together. As a result, studies using omega-3 fish oil to treat anxiety also have some mixed findings.

For instance, one meta-analysis in 2018 showed a significant benefit of omega-3 supplementation for those with clinically diagnosed anxiety. Another in 2019, however, showed no significant benefit.

But just as with depression, anxiety symptoms and causes of the disorder vary significantly.

How you respond to treatments might fluctuate compared to others. Accordingly, the potential for anxiety relief and a low risk of side effects makes fish oil an acceptable option.

Just do yourself a favor and establish other healthy habits like proper diet and exercise, speaking with a friend or therapist when you feel anxious, and seeking treatment if you feel necessary.

Summary: Omega-3 fish oil might improve anxiety-related symptoms. It should, however, not be considered the only step towards healing, just as with depression.

One meta-analysis in 2018 showed a significant benefit of omega-3 supplementation for those with clinically diagnosed anxiety. 

Using Omega-3 Fish Oil

If you’re interested in giving omega-3 fish oil a try, you should follow a few guidelines for supplementation.

Dosing

The National Institute of Health suggests between 1-2 grams of fish oil daily is adequate. Some studies have suggested that smaller doses might work but 1-2 grams daily is established as safe and effective.

Again, it’s worth noting that favoring a higher ratio of EPA might be more beneficial, particularly for mental health.

Timeline

Some studies have shown benefit of fish oil in as few as three weeks, but others have required longer. As with symptom relief, the time necessary for you to gain benefit might vary considerably based on your body and the reasons behind your mental health condition.

As such, supplement consistently to give yourself the best chance of finding relief.

Final Thoughts

Research associating omega-3 fish oil and mental health disorders is mixed, yet still promising.
Despite some studies showing minimal or no effect, other studies suggest that responses to fish oil might vary based on different factors and provide relief.

With few adverse side effects, these discrepancies suggest that giving fish oil a chance might provide some relief when combined with other healthy practices. Just respect that there are limitations here, and your response to fish oil might vary.

By Sam Biesack

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