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Omega-3 Fats Help Reduce Anxiety and Inflammation

omega-3 fatNew research shows that healthy young people who consumed more omega-3 fats showed a marked reduction both in inflammation and, somewhat surprisingly, also in anxiety.

Omega-3's such as EPA and DHA have long been considered positive additives to the diet. Previous research suggested that the compounds might play a role in reducing the level of inflammatory cytokines.

In addition, according to Eurekalert:

"[P]sychological surveys clearly showed an important change in anxiety among the students: Those receiving the omega-3 showed a 20 percent reduction in anxiety compared to the placebo group."

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Animal-based omega-3 fats are one of the most important essential nutrients out there.  Part of the benefit comes from its potent anti-inflammatory effects, which this new study, as well as plentiful past research, supports. However, one of the unique aspects to omega-3 fat is that it impacts your health on multiple levels. Studies show that omega-3 deficiency can cause or contribute to serious health problems, both mental and physical, and may be a significant underlying factor in up to 96,000 premature deaths each year.

Omega-3 Fights Inflammation, a Leading Contributor to Chronic Disease

The latest research showed a 14 percent reduction in the cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) -- a compound that promotes inflammation -- among medical students taking an omega-3 supplement. This adds even more support to the large body of research highlighting omega-3's anti-inflammatory power.

A separate study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that women with the highest intake of omega-3 fats had a 44 percent reduced risk of dying from inflammatory disease compared with women with the lowest intake. Omega-3 fats have also been shown to reduce T-cell-mediated inflammation, in part, by suppressing T-cell (a key immune system white blood cell) activation and proliferation.

Still other research suggests omega-3 fats produce anti-inflammatory fats called resolvins, which may control inflammation by:

  • Stopping the passage of inflammatory cells to inflammation sites
  • Turning on other inflammatory cells

Fighting inflammation is an incredibly important attribute, as excess inflammation in your body can fester silently for years until disease develops. All of the following conditions are linked to chronic inflammation (the type of illness is typically dependent on which organs the inflammation is impacting) and, as such, may be benefited by omega-3 fat:

Heart disease Cancer Alzheimer's
Multiple sclerosis Ulcerative colitis Crohn's disease
Rheumatoid arthritis Asthma Allergies

Omega-3 May Decrease Anxiety, Improve Mood

The omega-3 fats EPA and DHA also play a role in your emotional well-being. The Brain Behavior and Immunity study showed a dramatic 20 percent reduction in anxiety among med students taking omega-3, while past research has shown omega-3 fats such as those found in krill oil work just as well as antidepressants in preventing the signs of depression, but without any of the side effects. Low plasma concentrations of DHA is associated with low concentrations of brain serotonin, which may be associated with depression and suicide.

In fact, inadequate intake of omega-3 fats is known to change the levels and functioning of both serotonin and dopamine (which plays a role in feelings of pleasure), as well as compromise the blood-brain barrier, which normally protects your brain from unwanted matter gaining access. Omega-3 deficiency can also decrease normal blood flow to your brain, an interesting finding given that studies show people with depression have compromised blood flow to a number of brain regions.

Finally, omega-3 deficiency also causes a 35 percent reduction in brain phosphatidylserine (PS) levels, which is relevant considering that PS has documented antidepressant activity in humans. Interestingly, omega-3 fats have even been known to help reduce violent behavior and aggression, and even improve the ability to concentrate in people with ADHD, so the impact on your brain health is quite significant.

What Type of Omega-3 is Best?

There are two types of omega-3 fat – plant-based and animal-based. Plant-based omega-3 sources like flax, hemp and chia are high in ALA and are important sources of nutrients, as we all need ALA. However, ALA has to be converted by your body into the far more essential EPA and DHA by an enzyme in which the vast majority of us have impaired by high insulin levels.

So, I believe it is essential to get some of your omega-3 fats from animal sources, and research suggests that animal-based omega-3 fats are also those that will give you the best anti-inflammatory effects. According to research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition:

"Among the fatty acids, it is the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) which possess the most potent immunomodulatory activities, and among the omega-3 PUFA, those from fish oil -- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) -- are more biologically potent than alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)."

When it comes to choosing between the animal-based omega-3 options, the primary sources are fish, fish oil, or krill oil. As I'll explain, I believe krill oil is the far superior choice on this list.

  • Fish: In a perfect world, you would be able to get all the omega-3s you need by eating fish. Unfortunately, the vast majority of our fish supply is now so heavily contaminated with industrial pollutants and toxins like mercury, PCBs, heavy metals and radioactive poisons that I just can’t recommend most fish any longer. However, there are suppliers, like Vital Choice, that do harvest the fish from less polluted areas of the world and they clearly are less contaminated.
  • Fish oil: I used to recommend that you take fish oil to enhance your intake of omega-3 fats, and high-quality fish oils are certainly great products with many important health benefits. However, fish oil is weak in antioxidant content.

    This is a major drawback for fish oil, because as you increase your intake of omega-3 fats by consuming fish oil, you actually increase your need for even more antioxidant protection.

    This happens because fish oil is quite perishable, and oxidation leads to the formation of unhealthy free radicals. Therefore, antioxidants are required to ensure that the fish oil doesn't oxidize and become rancid inside your body. So, you need to consume additional antioxidants both for your health in general, AND for your increased need for antioxidants when using fish oil.
  • Krill oil: Last but certainly not least is my preferred choice for animal-based omega-3 fats. I believe krill oil is superior to fish oil because it contains phospholipids that dramatically improve DHA and EPA absorption. It also has a very powerful antioxidant called astaxanthin, and omega-3s bonded together in a way that keeps them protected from oxidation. Many popular fish oil brands are already oxidized before you open the bottle. Krill oil is also 48 times more potent than fish oil and contains vitamin E, vitamin A, and vitamin D.

    Krill is a completely sustainable and environmentally friendly source of omega-3. Not only is krill the largest biomass in the world, but krill harvesting is one of the best regulated on the planet, using strict international precautionary catch limit regulations that are reviewed regularly to assure sustainability. You can read more about why krill oil is completely environmentally friendly here.

The average American diet is seriously deficient in the animal-based omega-3 fats, DHA and EPA, as except for certain types of fish, which I don't recommend eating as noted above, there are very few sources of these crucial fats. So please be sure that you and your family are regularly taking a high-quality animal-based omega-3 supplement so you can achieve the benefits described in this new research.