Depression Linked To "Bad Fats"
Scientific studies have linked a low dietary intake of omega 3 fatty acids and
dieting with growing rates of depression in the United States. Depression
affects more than 19 million Americans over the age of 18 every year.
Furthermore, the incidence of major depression has been increasing while the
age of onset has decreased. Interestingly, the risk of developing depression
has increased at a rate similar to the rise in consumption of omega 6 fatty
acids (vegetable seed oils) and relative to the decrease in omega 3 fatty acids
(fish, walnuts, flaxseed.) Many nutritionists feel that this is a direct result
of the increased consumption of processed foods among Americans.
There is sound scientific rationale to help explain the antidepressant effects
of omega 3 fatty acids. More than half of the brain is comprised of fat, thus
making brain function sensitive to the dietary composition of fatty acids
consumed. The brain also requires that a certain amount of these fatty acids
come from omega 3 to supply EPA and DHA fatty acids.
The association of omega 3 fatty acids as an antidepressant stems from a handful
of epidemiological studies, which established that rates of depression among
different countries were directly related to fish consumption. Hibbeln et al.
published in the Lancet Journal a strong relationship of fish consumption with
lower rates of depression in countries such as Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. He has
also reported that high fish consuming nations have the lowest rate of
post-partum depression. A study by Nemets et al, examined the effects of the
omega 3 fatty acid, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) in twenty people with recurrent
depression. These individuals received either a fish oil capsule or a sugar
pill in addition to antidepressant medication. As soon as two weeks into the
study, there was an improved sense of well being and sleeping patterns in the
EPA group. By four weeks into the study, 6 of the ten individuals taking the
EPA had a significant reduction in the symptoms of depression as compared to
only one of the ten taking the sugar pill. The study concluded that the fatty
acid EPA may boost the antidepressant effect of the medication in depressed
EPA and DHA are derived from omega 3 rather than the omega 6 derivative,
arachidonic acid. EPA and DHA are important for proper communication between
the neurotransmitters in the brain and are necessary for structural and
functional roles in the brain cells. Omega 3 fatty acids also affect cellular
This information raises the question on whether the conventional way to lose
weight and even lower cholesterol may have deleterious effects. The
conventional dietary approach typically replaces the saturated fats with omega
6 fats, rather than emphasizing monounsaturated for a healthier balance and
ratio to omega 3 intakes. Given the findings of the scientific publications
concerning omega 3 fatty acids, it becomes even more important to address the
type and balance of dietary fat consumed. The average ratio of omega 6 to omega
3 intake is approximately 15 : 1, far from the recommended 1-4 : 1 estimate.
EPA and arachidonic acid (omega 6 derived) are intended to be consumed in
balance. Without sufficient EPA, arachidonic acid derived eicosanoids will
overwhelm and dominate many responses in the body, ultimately affecting more
than just depression, but immune function and heart disease as well. For many
consumers, this subject is confusing and challenging, especially when it comes
to identifying foods to eat on a daily basis. The dietary advice, to increase
the intake of omega 3 fatty acids, while moderating the intake of omega 6 fatty
acids, can be achieved by several approaches.
info from California Olive Industry Dieting And Depression by Connie Guttersen,
RD PhD, author of the Sonoma Diet