Fish Oil: The Good Mood Fat That Keeps Things In Focus
The omega 3s found in fish oil -- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) -- are power-packed fatty acids that keep our bodies healthy and our minds sharp. They are most commonly known to promote heart health and, among many other benefits, have also become known to promote visual acuity and even psychological health, helping to curb mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and depression.
Over the last century, diets in Western culture have changed significantly and no longer provide the necessary balance of omega 3s and omega 6s. Instead they give people an overabundance of omega 6s from soy and other oils that are in most processed foods, and almost no omega 3s. (Humans evolved getting a 1:1 ratio of omega 6s to omega 3s and current. Western diets often show a ratio of 10:1 and as high as 50:1.) Foods that provide omega 3s include wild fish, walnuts, flax seeds and some greens. At the same time as diets have changed and shown a drop in omega 3s, there has been an increase in depression in Western culture. When researchers started to take a look, they starting seeing a correlation. They noticed that cultures that eat more wild fish have less depression than those that don't.
Two studies in the United States showed depression in 3.7% and 2.9% of the population studied, while two studies in Japan showed depression in only 0.9% and 0% of the subjects. The intake of DHA and EPA in the Japanese studies was 1.5 grams per day and 4.2 grams per day, while in the U.S. the average intake of DHA and EPA is estimated to be 1 gram per day.
So how does fish oil effect visual acuity, depression recovery and bipolar disorder?
DHA, one of the omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil, is one of the most important factors in a healthy nervous system. DHA builds our brains and makes up most of the fat in our brains (60% of brain tissue is fatty acids with DHA being the main fat). DHA is also the the fat that makes up most of the retina of our eyes. DHA is necessary for healthy communication between our brains and nervous system, and when it's not there, the communication and the system starts to break down. Hence the effect of DHA on visual acuity, depression and bipolar disorder. Research has also shown that people who suffer from depression often have low levels of EPA and hence the link between depression and bipolar disorder and both fatty acids found in fish oil.
Bipolar disorder and fish oil
Bipolar disorder, also know as manic depression, involves recurring episodes of mania, depression or both. Bipolar disorder is most likely caused by overactivity in nerve pathways. The omega 3s found in fish oil curb this overactivity in nerve pathways and therefore appear to help curb bipolar disorder episodes. This is a great breakthrough because the drugs normally used to treat bipolar disorder (lithium carbonate and valproate) are not very effective and have side effects.
There have been various studies on bipolar disorder and fish oil, with the pilot study being the Harvard bipolar disorder and fish oil study in 1999. This landmark study, conducted by Dr. Andrew Stoll, showed that omega 3s (in the form of fish oil supplements helped bipolar disorder subjects maintain mood stability much better than those in the placebo group, who received olive oil supplements. Since that finding, fish oils have become a major factor in treatment and prevention of and recovery from bipolar disorder. (What's great too is that fish oil doesn't have the usual side effects of the traditional medications!)
Since the Harvard study there have been other findings on bipolar disorder and fish oil. The American Journal of Psychiatry published the 2003 study comparing populations of different countries. This study showed a lower rate of bipolar disorder in countries where people consume more fish.