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Omega-3s and mental wellness

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Ask the Experts
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Q: I’ve heard omega-3s may be helpful in depression. What are sources of omega-3s, and is there any research to support this?

A: Omega-3 fats are an essential nutrient, meaning we have to get these fats from the diet for good health. Green leafy vegetables, plant oils, and nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and flaxseeds, are sources of the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

To provide the health benefits commonly associated with omega-3, ALA must be converted into the longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The body’s conversion rate of ALA to EPA and DHA isn’t very efficient, at only about 5 percent, whereas fish, seafood, and algae are direct sources of EPA and DHA. Supplements containing fish oils and algal oils can also be direct sources of specific amounts of EPA and DHA.

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Omega-3 research

The first meta-analysis (26 studies and more than 150,000 individuals) evaluating the association between dietary fish consumption (as a source of omega-3) and depression risk was published this year and reported a 17 percent reduced risk of depression with high consumption versus low consumption of fish.

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What about supplementation?

Promising research published in a 2016 meta-analysis reported an overall beneficial effect with omega-3 supplementation. Interestingly, a greater effect was reported when higher doses of the omega-3 EPA were used. Similar findings were reported in another meta-analysis that suggested supplements containing EPA greater than 60 percent of total EPA and DHA may have a positive effect.

Depression is a serious concern, so make sure you consult a health care practitioner to help determine how to best address your individual needs.

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