Omega-3 and It’s Mental Health Boosting Benefits
Last week we dove into our series on the five well-being warriors, starting with vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin”. Today, we’re talking about omega-3’s. Powerful fatty acids that can protect our physical, emotional, and mental well-being!
Omega-3’s are essential fatty acids derived from our diet and we need sufficient enough levels in our body to perform certain tasks. Some of these duties involve protecting our heart health, ensuring we have a robust immune system, regulating hormone production, and contributing to cell membrane integrity1. In addition to these health benefits, research has also established a significant link between omega-3’s and their protective effect on our mental health and cognitive functioning2. This specific role will be the focus of today’s blog!
The Link to Mental Health
While the physical health benefits of omega-3’s have long been known, the recognition that these fatty acids also play a key role in our mental health and well-being is a much newer concept. A recent scientific literature review2 drew on the research that investigated this connection, and reported that omega-3’s are crucial for brain development, functioning, and normal aging. In fact, the author concluded that “in humans, dietary deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with an increased risk of developing various psychiatric disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and autism”. This makes sense, seeing as the human brain has the most concentrated source of fatty acids in the body!
Research has shown that there are many different ways that omega-3’s can help bolster up our mental health and well-being, including through regulating brain inflammation3-5 as well as the formation of and communication between neurons in the brain5.
Where Can We Get It, and How Much Do We Need?
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids, these include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)1. ALA is primarily found in plant-based oils, such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola. Whereas DHA and EPA are highest in fish and their respective oils. Of these three fatty acids, ALA is the only one that is truly considered “essential” from our diet, as EPA and DHA can be made in our bodies from ALA – however, this process is not overly efficient and therefore it is still recommended we choose foods and/or supplements that provide us with rich sources of all three of these omega-3’s.
The Institute of Medicine1,6 recommends the following Adequate Intake’s (AI), which is the intake level assumed to ensure nutritional adequacy, of ALA for all individuals ranging from 14 to 50 years of age:
|Population, 14-50 years of age||Daily Adequate Intake (AI) of ALA|
|Pregnant women||1400 milligrams|
|Lactating women||1300 milligrams|
The Global Organization for EPA and DHA (GOED) Omega-3’s7 recommends the following daily intakes of EPA and DHA combined, based on the current body of scientific evidence:
|Population||Daily Recommended Intake of EPA + DHA|
|General, healthy adult||500 milligrams|
|Pregnant or lactating women||700 milligrams|
|At risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels||1000 milligrams|
The following table1 can be used as a guide to understand which food sources offer the highest level of each of these three omega-3’s:
|Food Source||Milligrams (mg) per serving of food source|
|Flaxseed oil, 1 tbsp||7260|
|Chia seeds, 1 ounce||5060|
|English walnuts, 1 ounce||2057|
|Flaxseed, whole, 1 tbsp||2350|
|Salmon (Atlantic), 3 ounces||1240||590|
|Herring (Atlantic), 3 ounces||940||770|
|Canola oil, 1 tbsp||1280|
|Mackerel (Atlantic), 3 ounces||590||430|
|Salmon (canned pink), 3 ounces||40||630||280|
|Soybean oil, 1 tbsp||920|
|Trout (wild rainbow), 3 ounces||440||400|
|Oysters (wild Eastern), 3 ounces||140||230||300|
|Sea bass, 3 ounces||470||180|
|Edamame, ½ cup||280|
|Shrimp, 3 ounces||120||120|
|Tuna (canned light), 3 ounces||170||20|
|Tilapia, 3 ounces||40||110|
|Scallops, 3 ounces||90||60|
As you can see, enriching your diet with these food sources of omega-3’s is certainly possible! However, for some individuals adding these items on a daily basis may become a difficult feat. Therefore, adding a daily supplement is one great way to ensure we are getting enough of these mental and physical health-enriching fatty acids!
Supplements are available in liquid or capsule form, and are available in many different price zones, so finding one that works for you and is within your budget is definitely recommended!
If you decided to go the route of supplementation, keep an eye on the amount of ALA, EPA, and DHA that is available in the formula, and aim to meet your recommended daily intakes from the charts above on the average day.
The Bottom Line
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our health as human beings, not only to protect our physical health, but also to optimize our mental well-being and cognitive functioning.
Therefore, finding a way to get enough omega-3’s into your day, through diet and/or supplementation, is most definitely one important way we recommend enhancing overall health and well-being through nutrition!
1National Institutes of Health. (2020, Oct 1). Omega-3 fatty acids: fact sheet for health professionals. Received from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
2Lange, K. W. (2020). Omega-3 fatty acids and mental health. Global Health Journal, 4(1), 18-30. Received from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S241464472030004X
3Simopoulos, A. P. (2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 56(8), 365-379. Received from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0753332202002536
4Ergas, D., Eilat, E., Mendlovic, S. & Sthoeger, Z. (2002). n-3 fatty acids and the immune system in autoimmunity. The Israel Medical Association Journal, 4(1), 34-38. Received from https://europepmc.org/article/med/11802309?utm_medium=111357#similar-articles
5Bazinet, R. P. & Layé, S. (2014). Polyunsaturated fatty acids and their metabolites in brain function and disease. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 15(12), 771-785. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn3820
6Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. (2005). Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids (macronutrients). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
7Global Organization for EPA and DHA (GOED) Omega-3. (2020). Intake recommendations. Received from: https://goedomega3.com/intake-recommendations