Omega 3 fatty acids belong to a family of unsaturated fatty acids and are nutritionally important. Various studied have shown that Omega 3 has several health benefits for the mind and heart, as well as treating some chronic health conditions.
Omega 3 fatty acids are not synthesized by the human body but they form “long” and “short chain” fatty acids. The body converts short chain fatty acids to long chain and it is in this process that the body receives the benefits of Omega 3.
Omega 3 helps to reduce inflammation and in some cases has been found to lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega 3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and scientists believe they are important for cognitive and behavioural function.
Omega 3 is found in fruit, whole grains, vegetables, fish, olive oil, and garlic. Omega 6 which is also essential to the human body is predominately found in meat and unlike omega 3 promotes inflammation. The average American diet is found to have 14-25 times more omega 6 fatty acids than omega 3. The benefits of Omega 3 have been known since 1930s where it was discovered they were essential for normal growth. It has only been in the last ten years or so that it has been realized that the fatty acids have a much wider impact on health.
It is essential to have a balance of the two in a diet for maximum health benefits. The Mediterranean diet which arguably has the best balance of the two does not contain much meat, and as a result heart disease is a lot less common.
From a mental health perspective it would appear that omega 3 does have benefits to the treatment of depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia in some sufferers when drug rehab administered with fish oil, which contains omega 3. Depression was found to reduce in one trial but had no perceivable benefit in another. However, in no peer reviewed studies has any negative effects been reported from taking a fish oil supplement to help with depression and mood swings.
However, mood swings were found to be less dramatic with a better omega 3 and omega 6 balance. A Scandinavian study showed that many suicide attempts were made by people with a deficiency in omega 3.
Schizophrenia on the other hand showed more positive results. Orygen Research Centre in Melbourne enlisted 81 ‘high risk’ young people aged 13 to 24 who had previously showed signs of the condition. Half were given fish oil while the other were given a ‘fish tasting’ substitute. A year later only 3% of those taking fish oil had developed schizophrenia compared to 28% on the substitute.
These findings were somewhat backed up by further research where a study by Sheffield University in England found positive results from schizophrenia patients taking fish oil. Previously, the patients were taking anti – psychotic prescription drugs which after a while lost their effectiveness at controlling the condition.
Given the mixed results of omega 3 and mental illness it cannot be taken for granted that omega 3 will as a standalone treatment, be able to successfully help people suffering from depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia. All of these conditions need medical guidance and treatment in addition to omega 3. Depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia however, will not be worsened by the taking of omega 3 supplements and it has other health benefits which arguably are too good to ignore.