While there is still controversy on this subject, statistics show that physicians are prescribing more and more of these “magic” mood enhancers for their patients with medium to low levels of depression when instead mindful lifestyle changes could be just as effective. These medications are being used for treatments of more everyday symptoms ranging from stress, worry, and shyness to workaholism, social ineptness or facing relationship struggles or motherhood.
In fact, I’m currently working with a high-school client who feels pressured and anxious by all the pre-college preparation of her senior year whose pediatrician prescribed another anti-depressant Citalopram. According to a long litany of side effects, some of these SSRIs can actually contribute to anxiety.
In instances of severe depression, anti-depressants have shown some benefits but a larger percentage of occurrences suggest that sufferers would benefit from developing coping skills to manage life’s challenges and even more importantly would do well to cultivate better nutrition. As Hippocrates stated: “Let food be thy medicine.” Clearly, food choices can impact mood swings, how you feel about yourself and your reactions to the world. If you’re missing a healthy balance of nutrient-dense whole foods and healthy fats, you may experience nervousness, fatigue, lack of focus and poor memory which may be signs of Omega 3 deficiency.
Over time, we’ve begun to see more and more research showing a link between Omega 3 deficiency and depression. One of the first studies appeared in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 1998 which revealed that patients with depression had significantly lower levels of omega-3s in their red blood cell membranes. A year later, Dr. Andrew Stoll conducted further studies at Harvard University that showed marked improvement in symptoms of manic-depressive patients who took 10 grams of Omega-3 fish oil daily over four months.
According to the Linus Pauling Institute the two most important omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid, (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are only found in high levels in seafood. Another type of omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in plants, such as flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans and other nuts.
Omega-3 Deficiency Can Make You Depressed
The evidence is clear that the brain requires a certain level of Omega-3 fats for proper functioning. Without the right amount, science has shown clear links to depression, anxiety, postpartum depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Besides emotional sensitivity and mood swings, other tell-tale signs of Omega 3 deficiency include dry skin, brittle hair, peeling nails, excessive thirst, sleep challenges, aching joints, attention problems such as poor concentration or memory issues such as excessive forgetfulness.
The problem with our Western diet is that we tend to consume far too many Omega-6 fatty acids compared to Omega-3s. The ratio should be 1:1 and unfortunately is closer to between 1:20 and 1:50 as people consume too many polyunsaturated fats or vegetable oils.
Your body can convert a small amount of ALA into EPA and DHA, although the rate of conversion appears to be very low. So we need to make sure we consume healthier Omega-3 foods on a consistent basis. Seafood, especially fatty fishes like salmon and tuna, are the best dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids, although, as mentioned, some seeds and nuts such as flaxseed, walnuts, and soybeans, also contain significant levels.
If you have signs of depression or anxiety, consider getting a fatty acid profile test to measure your balance of Omega 3s and 6s. There are even at-home finger-prick tests that can help reveal your ratios so that you can make more appropriate food choices of the right types of Omega 3s. Instead of dieting, you’d be better served by cultivating good habits and a mindful approach to healthier meals and snacks for overall improved well-being.