Can we talk about Omega 3 acids without mentioning mental health? First of all, mental health is as important as physical health; they are two subjects that must not be separated. As a rule, poor mental health will eventually lead to poor physical health.
And just like most people, I too used to ask myself the question: how could I possibly improve my emotional well-being and maintain a mental balance through nutrition?
In this post, I will talk about very essential and important fatty acids that play an important role in our body and can help provide numerous health benefits, but more importantly on your brain and mental stability.
Omega 3 fatty acids are a family of polyunsaturated fats. As they are not produced in the body like other fats, they must be taken from what you include in your diet.
Types of Omega 3
Omega 3 has many types of fatty acids, but the main active member ones are:
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): Made in our body from other fatty acids and in very small amounts, this fatty acid is best known for its brain benefits and cognitive functions. It represents 40 percent of polyunsaturated fats in your brain, and has a role in the structure of the cell membrane, especially those in our brain and eye nerve cells. It is generally found in animal products, such as seafood and fatty fish, and is also found in some types of algae.
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid): this fatty acid mostly exists in the same sources of DHA, i.e. fatty fish, fish oil, and seafood. It has various body functions and can be useful for inflammatory diseases (arthrosis, arthritis, and chronic inflammation..)
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid): this fatty acid is very common in our diet, and exists in plant food like walnuts, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and is found in rare amounts in some animal fats. It is required for tissue function and used for energy. However, it is not biologically active, but is needed to be converted into EPA and DHA in small percentages.
Note: People who adopt a vegan lifestyle usually have a deficiency in DHA and EPA, and need food supplements.
Omega-3’s effects on brain health and mental disorders
Our brain is mostly made of fat (almost 60%), and Omega 3 fatty acids represent the majority of these fats. This is where the essentiality of maintaining a healthy and normal brain function comes.
Deficiency in Omega-3 is frequent with people who have psychiatric disorders. Supplementation of Omega-3 is used for several mental disorders; it acts as a barrier preventing the mood relapse and swings in bipolar and schizophrenia disorders. This fatty acid family is believed to reduce Alzheimer’s disease and all other age-related mental declines.
Depression and anxiety
These are common illnesses, and are predicted to be the number one global burden in the coming years. Generally speaking, they are characterized by a lack of interest or pleasure, by changes in appetite, feeling worthless, and fatigue all the time.
Regular consumption of Omega-3 might help to avoid the risk of depression and anxiety, and is beneficial to stagnate the disorder.
Children with ADHD
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common behavioral disorder that affects school-aged children. Those with ADHD can be easily distracted, they lack concentration, are hyperactive, and have difficulties sitting still.
Studies have proven that the blood level of Omega-3 fatty acids are low for ADHD children. Omega-3 supplementation is a very effective way in helping the reduction of the symptoms and treatment of ADHD. Fish oil supplements are promising in these cases.
Pregnancy and early life
Consuming enough sources of Omega-3 during pregnancy will definitely help the cerebral construction and brain growth of your child, which will automatically reflect on his behavior and intelligence level. Children with balanced Omega-3 acids are also thought to have better social skills communication.
Breastfeeding is fundamental for the cognitive function of the child, and breastmilk contains naturally an important amount of DHA fatty acid.
Most health organizations recommend a minimum of 250-500 mg each day for healthy adults.
It is also suggested to take a higher dose of Omega-3 for depressed and anxious people to reduce the symptoms, about 200-2200 mg per day depending on each case.
According to NIH, they suggested to not take more than 3g per day of DHA and EPA.
Note: Because Omega-3 lowers the body’s inflammatory responses, it can lower your immune system function over a long period of supplementation.
Natural Sources of omega-3
Mackerel: one piece of a salted mackerel contains 4.1 mg per serving (100 g)
- DHA: 1,940 mg for 100 mg
- EPA: 1,020 mg for 100 mg
Salmon: Cooked Half fillet, Atlantic salmon contains 4.12 mg per serving
- DHA: 842 mg for 100 g
- EPA: 527 mg for 100 g
Cod liver oil: 1 tablespoon 2.7 mg
- DHA: 1.5 mg for 1 tablespoon (13.6 g)
- EPA: 1 mg for 1 tablespoon (13.6 g)
Sardines: 2,205 mg per serving (3,524 mg for 100 g)
- DHA: 573 mg (100 g)
- EPA: 1,250 mg (100 g)
Herrings: Medium fillet, Atlantic herring 946 mg (2366 mg for 100g)
- DHA: 1,180 mg (100 g)
- EPA: 1,000 mg (100 g)
Caviar: per tablespoon (14 g) contains 1,086 mg
3,5 ounces (100 g) contains 6,800 mg
Anchovies: 3 oz (85 g) contains 1,400 mg
Flaxseeds: 1 tbsp contains 2,350 mg (10.3 g)
Flaxseed oil: 1 tbsp contains 7,260 mg (13.6 g)
Chia seeds: per ounce contains 5,060 mg (28 g)
Walnuts: per ounce contains 2,570 mg (28 g)