According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, depression will affect over 30 million American lives. In addition, depression is the leading cause for absences at the workplace than any other illness. Dr. Joseph Hibbeln of the National Institutes of Health suggests that the growing rate of depression in the United States is a result of unequal (and unhealthy) proportions of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids due to the increased use of corn, palm, and cottonseed oils in processed and fast foods.
Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are crucial to the body; however, they are most useful in a 1:1 ratio. Unfortunately, the excessive consumption of omega-6 fatty acids through the cooking oils that most American recipes require has skewed the healthy 1:1 ratio of omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids to a shocking 16:1 ratio.
Since over 50% of the brain’s dry weight is made up of fat, it is no surprise that our intake of fat is linked to the efficient functioning of our brains. Omega-6 fatty acids, found in corn and vegetable oils, promote inflammation to fight off invaders of the body while omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and help the flexibility of cell membranes. By promoting the flexibility of cell membranes, the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, mackerel, sardines, albacore tuna, and fish oil supplements aid the neurotransmission of serotonin, a mood-controlling chemical in the brain, and therefore reduce the incidence of depression.
The active components of fish oil are eicosapentaeonic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). According to Doctor of Pharmacology, Joe Pepping, EPA and DHA "lower the triglycerides (fats) in the blood and keep nerve cell membranes flexible and healthy."
Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in cell membranes of the brain are associated with low levels of serotonin. A low level of serotonin in the brain is the chemical cause for depressive moods. Symptoms include lacking motivation and feeling persistent sadness and general lethargy. Such symptoms can interfere with one’s ability to work and to interact socially. Increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish oil supplements can reset the imbalance of the excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids in the American diet.
EPA and DHA have also been found to prevent cardiac problems and alleviate pain in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Studies of the effects of fish oil are also underway in treating attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia, and manic-depression.
According to researchers at Kaiser Permanente, a health care provider predominantly serving patients on the West Coast, 3 to 4 servings of cold-water fish a week is the equivalent of taking fish oil supplements. Two capsules of fish oil taken twice a day before meals is an alternative to diet changes. Consult your doctor before taking fish oil supplements if you are currently taking blood-thinning medication since omega-3 fatty acids have also been known to block platelet clumping.