Omega 3s

Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, are essential nutrients needed for numerous bodily functions including cell membrane synthesis (particularly for neurons), inflammation control and blood clotting. Omega 3 intake is associated with a wide range of health benefits such as protection against stroke, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases and certain inflammatory diseases.

Omega 3 seems a decent anti-depressive that’s got a fair bit of research behind it.  As an ADHD treatment, omega 3 isn’t enough on its own, but certainly would appear to be helpful.

As a nootropic or cognitive enhancer, for otherwise healthy individuals who aren’t getting enough omega 3, it would appear that increased intake of EPA and DHA is beneficial.  Research shows modest improvements in reaction time, concentration and a reduction of stress. See the healthy human benefits section for applicable research.


Sources Of Omega 3 Fatty Acids

The three main types of omega 3 are ALA(Alpha Linolenic Acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). ALA is found in plant foods, such as flax seed and walnuts, while EPA and DHA are only found in animal foods such as oily fish. [1]

Other Names

Omega 3 fatty acids, fish oil, essential fatty acids. EPA and DHA.

Omega 3 Dosing

1-2 grams total  EPA/DHA per day would seem suitable for most.  This would generally come from a larger dose of concentrated fish oil, typically 6g, at a concentration of 30% epa/dha per gram.

If suffering from depression, stress or inflammatory disorders, consider increasing that to 3-4g total EPA/ DHA per day.

Intake of ALA (from flax) rather than EPA/DHA is suboptimal due to a poor conversion rate. Unless you’re vegetarian try to consume your omega 3 from animal sources.

It’s important to realize that a beneficial balance of omega3:6 is probably more important than an absolute amount of omega 3 (past a certain point).  A ratio of 1:1-1:4 omega 3:6 would seem optimal. See the ratio section below for more information


Omega 3 Absorption

Omega 3 fatty acids are digested in the same way most dietary fat is. Initially uptake in the small intestine and being packaged into chylomicrons, fats are then delivered to muscle, liver and fat tissue for metabolism. [2],[3],[4]

Omega 3 to Omega 6 Ratio

Omega 3 and 6 compete for the same enzymes which convert them to eicosanoids and prostaglandins. This has led some authors to suggest the ratio of omega 3:6 is more important than absolute intake of either. A diet high in omega 6 relative to omega 3 will generally be more “pro inflammatory” as opposed to the opposite. [5]

The typical western diet is highly weighted in favor of omega 6 intake, with a typical 3:6 ratio of 1:10-1:30[6], while anthropological evidence would suggest the diet humans evolved on would lie somewhere between 1:1-1:4 [7],[8]

Some research has shown that ratio’s appear not to matter for preventing heart disease[9],[10],[11] though it’s unknown as to whether this extends to other benefits. Common sense would suggest trying to maintain a ratio of 1:4 at a minimum, via a reduction in omega 6 and/or increase in omega 3.

Omega 3 Benefits

Healthy Adult Human Benefits

While we list the many benefits of omega 3 below, many will be interested to see if there’s any benefit to be had for an otherwise healthy people who’ve got a low intake.

Unsurprisingly for an essential nutrient, there are benefits to optimal intake or deficiencies from sub-optimal intake, depending on how you view it.

  • Improving triglyceride levels and insulin sensitivity [12][13][14]
  • Improving body composition [15]
  • Cardiovascular Disease Reduction [16],[17]
  • Improved memory and reaction time [18][19]
  • Improved attention [20]
  • Markers Of Inflammation Reduced [21]
  • Visual Acuity – Older Participants [45] [22]
  • Reducing Stress (In Stressed Individuals) [23][24]

Depression and Omega 3

Depression has been associated to decreased levels of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in the red blood cells [25],[26],[27] which is a direct result of dietary intake. In an interesting study assessing the levels of EPA among suicidal men, it was revealed that their EPA level was considerably low [19]. Another study however has shown that there are no correlation between mood levels and omega 3 intake[28]. Numerous studies have demonstrated positive results – that is, intake of omega 3 can help in alleviating symptoms of depression ([18], [19], [29],[30], [31], [32],[33])

A study involving mothers suffering from postpartum depression was undertaken in 2005. The participants were randomized into different omega 3 dosages. After data gathering and analysis, it was revealed that significant benefits were achieved in the omega 3 group study participants. Despite the low sample population, this study support the hypothesis that omega 3 supplementation can help in improving depressive states even amongst mothers suffering from postpartum depression (26).

Cognitive Development

Earlier studies have shown that decreased omega 3 fatty acids in the brain of infants are associated with impairment in cognitive and visual acuity ([34],[35],[36],[37]). In animal and human studies, it was revealed that decreased levels of DHA in the fetal brain is linked to neurocognitive problems including risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia as well as memory problems (29,[38]). Epidemiological studies have also shown that low omega 3 fatty acid intake among mothers predicts poor neural development in children ([30],[39], [40], [41], [42], [43],[44]).

In a 2000 study, healthy term infants were randomized on either infant formula milk supplemented with DHA or formula milk without DHA. Results revealed that infants who were given infant formula milk with DHA have improved Mental Development Index (MDI) scores (35).

Omega 3 and ADHD       

Numerous developmental disorders have been associated with biological deficits of certain nutrients including polyunsaturated fatty acids ([45],[46]). A preliminary study found out that PUFA supplementation helped in decreasing ADHD symptoms including that of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity ([47]). Another study have also shown that a subgroup of adolescents and children with ADHD related manifestations who underwent 6 months of omega 3 and 6 supplementation  demonstrated significant decrease in ADHD signs and symptoms ([48]). Another study recommends omega 3 fatty acid supplementation to augment traditional ADHD treatment interventions ([49]).

Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Conflicting evidence regarding the efficiency of omega 3 fatty acid intake in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia treatment have been demonstrated. A small body of evidence has shown omega 3 to be effective in decreasing Alzheimer’s disease symptoms and dementia risk ([50], [51], [52],[53]). Other studies have shown that omega 3 may actually help in decreasing dementia risk whilst help improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease ([54],[55],[56],[57],[58]). One study discovered that omega 3 fatty acid supplementation increases EPA levels on plasma membranes – an important indicator of better cognitive outcomes. This study also showed that the Alzheimer’s Diseases Assessment Scores of the participants are improved (51). Despite these positive results, experts in the field recommend further research involving a larger population sample and more rigorous study methods.

Omega 3 and Schizophrenia

Some research suggests omega 3 may be helpful for Schizophrenia. Imaging studies have shown that there are decreased levels of EPA and DHA in the brains of individuals demonstrating schizophrenic symptoms ([59],[60],[61]). Supplementation of omega 3 fatty acids is demonstrated to improve the levels of these essential nutrients in the brain which may improve schizophrenic symptoms (46). As such, some studies recommend long-term omega 3 fatty acid supplementation as an adjunct treatment for schizophrenia ([62],[63]).

Omega 3 – Mechanism of action

Decrease AA Derived Eicosanoid Production

Omega 3 fatty acids exert their effect by decreasing arachidonic acid (AA) derived eicosanoid production. Eicosanoids synthesized from arachidonic acid are said to play a role in numerous disease process as well as mental illnesses (e.g. schizophrenia). Arachidonic acid derived eicosanoids including prostaglandins, lekotrienes and thromboxanes have well-established roles on inflammation, smooth muscle contraction, platelet aggregation and immunity.

Omega 3s, particularly EPA take effect by decreasing arachidonic acid metabolism. EPA also helps in producing alternative eicosanoids which are considered to be less potent and otherwise beneficial. EPA helps in the production of Protectin D1, a type of lipid mediator that appears to have an important role in protecting neuronal tissue from damage – a mechanism that may possibly help in preventing neurodegenerative diseases ([64],[65]).

Cell Membrane Fluidity

Omega 3 fatty acids are one of the essential components of the neuronal cell wall. DHA is found in increased levels on neurons where it helps by providing structural support.  Sufficient omega 3 intake, allows neurons to function optimally by supporting chemical transport and cellular communication. Omega 3 fatty acids’ ability to alter neuronal fluidity helps in improving moods amongst depressed patients as well as help in the cognitive development of infants and fetus on lactating and pregnant women (25, 58).

Regulating Inflammation

Another important mechanism associated with omega 3 fatty acids (pure EPA and DHA) is its ability to decrease production of inflammatory cytokines. Numerous studies have shown that increased levels of inflammatory cytokines including tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFa) and interleukin 1 beta (IL-1b) is associated with depression, lack of mental sharpness and anxiety. Omega 3s are also associated with PPAR activation that results in the regulation of metabolism and decrease in inflammation and inflammatory cytokines (25, 58, 59).

Increasing Dopamine Levels

Numerous animal studies have shown that dopamine levels are significantly decreased among those with omega 3 deficient diets. Decrease in dopamine levels at the frontal cortex is specifically pronounced. Such deficiencies can lead to depressive symptoms. In rodents, omega 3 supplementation is also related to the decrease in the activity of monoamine-oxidase B – an enzyme that plays an important role in dopamine breakdown ([66]).

Increasing BDNF Levels

Omega 3 supplementation is also associated to increase the levels of brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). Individuals suffering from more severe types of depression are said to have decreased BDNF levels. Through increasing levels of BDNF, neurotransmission is enhanced and nerve cells are protected. Research also shows that Omega 3 might help in preventing depressive symptoms, promote normal brain structure and help in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases (25).

Omega 3 Safety and Side Effects

Numerous studies have shown that omega 3 intake is generally safe. Due to a blood thinning effect. Individuals taking anti-coagulants are advised to seek medical advice before omega 3 supplementation.

Possible side effects of omega 3 intake include: nausea, upset stomach, watery/loose stools and a fishy aftertaste.  These are generally avoided when opting for a premium sourced product or by not consuming more than 5g in a given serving.

References Used