How Omega-3 Fats Offer New Hope for Depression

In this video, Dr. James S. Gordon, MD, talks about the connection between omega-3 fats and depression. They are an essential part of a wider program of treatment and prevention.

Dr. Gordon is a world-renowned expert in using mind-body medicine to heal depression, anxiety and psychological trauma. Dr. Gordon is the founder and director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington DC and a clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Family Medicine at Georgetown Medical School.

Dr. Gordon is the author of a new book called Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression. Educated at Harvard University, Dr. Gordon has devoted over 35 years to the exploration and practice of mind-body medicine.

To hear the entire expert interview with Dr. Gordon, join the Mercola Inner Circle.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Dr. Gordon is one of the rare physicians who actually encourages people with depression to take control of their health. If you listen to most conventional doctors you will probably be prescribed an antidepressant and sent on your way, left to think that depression is a “disease” you can do nothing about.

But as Dr. Gordon pointed out in the video, overcoming depression is usually a matter of integrating key natural therapies into a treatment program that feels right for you.

The Key Parts of a Natural Treatment Program for Depression

1. Optimize Your Diet

One of the best ways to beat depression is with nutritional approaches. This includes taking high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats daily. Omega-3 fats such as those in krill oil have been found to work just as well as antidepressants in preventing the signs of depression, but without any of the side effects.

In fact, throughout my years of medical practice I’ve had large numbers of patients be able to stop their antidepressants once they started taking omega-3 fats.

The consumption of omega-3 fats is lower in the United States than in any other country. Ironically, the United States also has one of the highest depression rates in the world.

Numerous studies worldwide have linked lack of omega-3 consumption -- specifically DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) -- with depression. For instance one study indicated that omega-3 fats may influence how your brain functions. Researchers found that in healthy individuals, low plasma concentrations of DHA predicted low concentrations of brain serotonin. This decreased amount of serotonin can be associated with depression and suicide.

Next, you’ll want to eliminate most sugar and grain from your diet, as these will increase your risk of insulin resistance, which is linked to depression (and diabetes).

Researchers have discovered a positive connection between higher levels of insulin resistance and severity of depressive symptoms in people with impaired glucose tolerance, even before the occurrence of diabetes. Based on these findings, it was suggested that insulin resistance could be the result of an increased release of counter-regulatory hormones linked to depression.

2. Get Moving

A regular exercise program is one of the best things you can do for your mood and mental health. Physical movement works so well because it helps to normalize insulin resistance while boosting “feel good” hormones in your brain.

As Dr. Gordon says:

“What we’re finding in the research on physical exercise is, the physical exercise is at least as good as antidepressants for helping people who are depressed … physical exercise changes the level of serotonin in your brain. It changes, increases their levels of “feel good” hormones, the endorphins. And also -- and these are amazing studies -- it can increase the number of cells in your brain, in the region of the brain, called the hippocampus,” he continues.

These studies have been first done on animals, and it’s very important because sometimes in depression, there are fewer of those cells in the hippocampus, but you can actually change your brain with exercise. So it’s got to be part of everybody’s treatment, everybody’s plan.”

3. Take Advantage of Mind-Body Approaches to Relieve Stress

Stress is one of the main causes of depression, so you must learn how to manage yours in order to feel better. My favorite method of stress relief is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), a form of psychological acupressure that you can learn how to do yourself. However, if you have depression or serious stress it would be best to consult with a mental health professional who is also an EFT practitioner to guide you.

EFT is far from the only stress-management method out there, though. Many people experience benefits from meditation, journaling, breathing exercises, yoga, or simply sharing their feelings with a close friend. Ideally, pick the method that feels best for you, or combine several methods and rotate them.

4. Other Options to Explore

The three steps above form the foundation of a natural treatment program for depression, and will help to treat the actual causes of your symptoms (unlike antidepressants, which only cover them up). Along your way you may also want to explore other options that have helped people to overcome depression, such as acupuncture, massage, proper sunlight exposure and herbal remedies.

Many people also find it helpful to have a guide to help support their healing process. This may be a physician, but more likely it will be a psychologist, a nurse, a minister, an EFT practitioner or even a life coach -- someone who understands what you are going through and will support you in your recovery.

Taking Control of Depression

The point that I really want everyone to understand is that you have the ability to overcome depression and many other chronic conditions. The more you explore your options and read what the research has to say the more you will uncover the truth about what will make you healthy.

If you or someone you love is currently struggling with depression, I highly suggest reading Dr. Gordon’s book Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression. From there, start taking a high-quality omega-3 fat today, get moving on an exercise program and try to find more ways to relax. As you progressively feel better, continue to move forward on your health journey by sharing what you’ve learned with others, and encouraging them, too, to take control of their health.