Numerous studies have shown omega-3s may help curb mental disorders such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and even depression, according to a new review. “We’ve long recognized the special relationship between omega-3s and the brain,” says Ski Chilton, Ph.D., director of botanical lipids and inflammatory disease prevention at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
One 2008 study in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry found that patients with major depressive disorders who took a combination of an EPA (a type of omega-3 fatty acid) pill and antidepressant reduced symptoms up to 80 percent after 8 weeks compared to about 50 percent in groups who just took EPA and antidepressants separately.
And earlier this year, a large study in Neurology revealed that a diet lacking in omega-3s may lead to faster memory loss and brain aging in older adults.
The truth is omega-3s—specifically the fatty acids DHA and EPA—play a critical role as building blocks of the central nervous system in the brain. Chalk that up to the fatty acids’ anti-inflammatory powers. As you age, get stressed and ill, or consume more foods with omega-6s, your body becomes more susceptible to inflammation, even in the brain.
That inflammation can destroy healthy brain tissue and disrupt the signaling between neurons, says Gary Small, M.D., professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine and author of The Alzheimer's Prevention Program. But a diet with plenty of omega-3s is a smart way to counteract constantly losing your keys after 45—and an even better way to fight depression.
Research shows omega-3 is often depleted in depressed people, causing inflammation and disrupting brain signal transportation of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that controls your mood.
Your move? “I always like people to get their nutrition from their diet first,” Small says. “I look at omega-3 supplements as kind of insurance.” Shoot for two 4- to 6-ounce servings of oily fish like mackerel, tuna, and salmon a week. Items like walnuts and flax seed—often trumpeted as full of omega-3s—actually contains less potent ALA, which means you need about 6 grams more from these plant foods to get an equivalent amount of EPA and DHA.
When shopping for an omega-3 capsule, look for the brand with the highest levels of DHA and EPA that totals at least 500 mg of the pill, says Chilton.
This article originally appeared in Men's Health US.