In Canada any given year one out of five of us will experience a mental health problem. By the age of 40, one out of every two of us will have or have had a mental illness. These are huge statistics. And thankfully with the increasing open conversation on mental health people are talking about their own mental health and wondering how food and supplement may play a role in their well-being.
Interest has been growing in the area of nutritional psychology — the study of how nutrition affects our mental well-being. Various studies have shown that people consuming the Mediterannean Diet, which is higher in Omega-3 than the standard North American diet, have lower levels of depression and anxiety.
What Are Omega-3 Oils?
Many types of fats the body can make on demand. Omega-3s are different. They are called essential because we cannot make them — they basically have to come from our diet. Further, it isn’t only how much omega-3 you have, but how much you have in relation to other oils like Omega-6. Omega-6 oils is much more common in typical North American diet, to the degree that we have up to 25x as much Omega-6 as we do Omega-3. Keep in mind we still need Omega-6, but when the balance gets off between these we can end up in a more inflammatory state.
What do Omega-3 Oils Do?
Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation. We have known that inflammation in the body is associated with pain, arthritis, etc. What we are learning now is that inflammation in the brain is associated with many mental health issues, like anxiety, depression and others.
Omega-3 Oils from Foods
Omega-3 fats are found primarily in fish — and as they are fats, they will be higher in the fattier fish. Good examples would be salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines. Being aware that different heavy metals can accumulate in fatty fish, especially fish that are higher up on the food chain — meaning the bigger fish!
Omega-3 Oils from Supplements
There are many reasons why someone may choose an Omega-3 supplement. Whether it is taste, convenience or difficulty getting high enough doses, supplemental Omega-3 may be a good choice.
Guide for Omega Supplements
Focus on the EPA
- Omega oils higher in EPA show more benefit for mood. Check out the label of any Omega-3 product and you will see it contains EPA and DHA, these are the two main types of omega-3 fat
- The exact amount may differ based on the person and their diet/genetics etc, but an average of 800-2000mg EPA per day is a rough starting point. Choose a product that is highly concentrated to save yourself popping a ton of pills.
Forget the Fishy
- Forget whatever you remember about cod liver oil of the past. Newer products are flavoured and actually taste great. Still scared of liquid… its available in capsules also.
- Look for a pharmaceutical grade oil that is sustainably-farmed and sourced.
As with all things, think of this as a tool in your toolbox for mental well-being. Know there are many options and approaches to mental well-being that can work for you.
Not all supplements are good for all people; they can have drug interactions. So, if you have questions about how Omega-3’s or other therapies can help your mental well-being, I would be happy to discuss how this and other treatments may benefit you.