Does Fish Oil Work for Anxiety?
Fish oil has become a very popular supplement due to its various uses and benefits, and researchers still are finding more ways that fish oil can improve one’s well being, specifically in the realm of mental health and anxiety.
There appears to be a definite link between fish oil and anxiety, with many studies showing that symptoms of anxiety can be greatly reduced with regular and adequate fish oil supplementation.
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Fish Oil for Depression and Anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that around 18 percent of Americans have anxiety. Anxiety and depression are often grouped together, but the symptoms can vary in slight but important ways.
While common symptoms of depression include sadness and hopelessness, symptoms of anxiety lie more towards fear and panic. Nevertheless, the two are usually treated in a similar way, primarily with serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Now that more natural remedies are coming to light, we may see a move away from anti-depressants and towards treatments like fish oil.
However, the two are usually treated in a similar way; primarily through serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) although natural treatments like fish oil are becoming increasingly popular.
What is Fish Oil?
As the name suggests, fish oil is oil that’s taken from the tissues of oily fish, such as cod and salmon. Larger, predatory fish are often preferred because they typically eat a diet high in algae and smaller fish, which are both excellent sources of Omega-3 acids, which are some of the most important aspects of fish oil.
Omega-3 is a type of ‘good’ fat; an unsaturated fat, like that found in nuts and seeds, that doesn’t have the same cholesterol-raising effects of ‘bad’ saturated fats. In fact, unsaturated fats could actually help to lower cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. Fish oil has even been shown to help reduce inflammation, protect the heart, regulate blood pressure, and even help treat skin conditions such as psoriasis.
How does fish oil work for anxiety?
Within the brain is a structure called the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for processing fearful thoughts, and while it can cause more anxiety in people with an overactive amygdala,
it is a part of the brain that is absolutely essential. Without a sense of fear, we would be oblivious to everyday risks, therefore putting ourselves in constant danger.
Studies have found that the chemical dopamine affects how the amygdala reacts, with low levels associated with increased activity.
This explains why those suffering from anxiety or depression, which results in lower levels of dopamine, can feel more fear–their amygdalae are overactive.
Luckily, supplements like fish oil normalize dopamine levels in the body, helping to regulate the amygdala. Serotonin is the chemical that is responsible for regulating our moods, and therefore affects our anxiety levels.
Serotonin transmits messages from neuron to neuron. Studies have shown that if cell membranes do not get enough Omega-3 fatty acids, serotonin is blocked.
Serotonin is blocked because Omega-3 fatty acids are used to strengthen cell membranes, and if they are not strong, they cannot accept the serotonin as well as they could otherwise. Seeing as serotonin has a huge effect on anxiety, the strengthening of cell membranes is extremely important.
Some professionals argue that anxiety is not a mental illness, but rather a symptom of inflammation in the body. While this is a topic of great debate, it is worth considering whether there could be a link between some cases of anxiety and inflammatory disorders. Some research suggests that inflammation deriving from the viral or bacterial disease could potentially affect signals to the brain, affecting mood.
Whether anxiety is an effect of an inflammatory disease or not, fish oil can help. Thanks to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties, fish oil may provide secondary benefits to mental health.
As we can see based on the effects of Omega-3 fatty acids on dopamine and serotonin, the supplement holds an extremely important role on brain health.
Brain, Behavior, and Immunity recently published a paper, Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: a randomized controlled trial, that looks at the interactions between fish oil and mental health and inflammation.
The researchers found that medical students who had been supplementing with Omega-3s had a decrease of 20% for their anxiety levels, while the control group experienced no changes.
They also saw a decrease in inflammation by 14% in those students in the experimental group. The researchers pointed out that these participants were young and healthy students who did not have much anxiety to begin with.
Therefore, supplementation of Omega-3s may be even more beneficial to other groups, especially those who already experience elevated levels of anxiety.
The researchers recommend getting your Omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish directly (rather than through supplements) by eating wild-caught and properly sourced fish.
What is Fish Oil?
As the name suggests, fish oil is oil that is taken from the tissues of oily fish, such as cod and salmon.
Scientists prefer large, predatory fish to create fish oil supplements because they typically eat a diet high in algae and smaller fish, which are both excellent sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3s are some of the most vital aspects of fish oil supplements. Omega-3 is a type of ‘good’ fat; it is an unsaturated fat, like that which is found in nuts and seeds, and does not have the same cholesterol-raising effects of ‘bad’ saturated fats.
In fact, unsaturated fats could actually help to lower cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
Fish oil has even been shown to help reduce inflammation, protect the heart, regulate blood pressure, and help treat skin conditions such as psoriasis.
Research on the use of fish oil for these various conditions has shown the following:
- Heart disease: Studies have shown that eating oily fish twice a week can reduce one’s risk of developing heart disease. They have also found taking fish oil supplements to be helpful at preventing heart disease when taken for at least six months. This supplementation has shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and death in those who have a high risk of heart disease. When adults supplement with Omega-3 fatty acids, they also have a lower risk of congestive heart failure.
- High blood pressure: Supplementing with Omega-3 fatty acids has shown to cause modest reductions in blood pressure, according to multiple studies. This effect may be larger in those who experience moderate to severe hypertension.
- High triglycerides and cholesterol: Studies have shown that Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce blood triglyceride levels significantly. Researchers have also found that this supplementation can improve high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (“good” cholesterol). Unfortunately, researchers also found an increase of low-density lipoprotein (“bad” cholesterol).
Rheumatoid arthritis: Fish oil supplements have been found to be helpful for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis by reducing pain, morning stiffness, and joint tenderness.
What is the Best Fish Oil Supplement?
There are many types of fish oil available, such as fish oil tablets and capsules, and as liquid fish oil. Krill oil, Nordic fish oil, cod liver oil, and salmon oil are all popular types of fish oil,
all used in both tablets and pure oil forms. When choosing a fish oil, look for one that contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are two of the most important forms of Omega-3 fatty acids. These fish oils are likely to be the safest and most effective.
Is Fish Oil Safe?
Fish oil is safe, although some people may experience some mild side effects of fish oil, including excess gas, small bouts of diarrhea, fishy aftertaste, bad breath, indigestion, nausea, and rash.
There is currently no official or recognized fish oil dosage for supplements in the United States, so it is advised to follow any instructions closely to avoid overdosing. It not understood yet if it is safe to take fish oil supplements if you are allergic to fish or shellfish.
However, if you’re thinking of upping your intake of oily fish, each state has implemented a set of fish consumption guidelines due to high levels of mercury present in some fish. The Food & Drug Administration advises limiting oily fish intake to 2 or 3 four ounce servings of oily fish per week for healthy adults.
For those taking medications, particularly blood thinners or blood sugar medications, it is best to speak to your doctor before taking fish oil supplements or making any major dietary changes due to the possible interactions that fish oil could have with some prescription medications or supplements.
Possible interactions include:
- Anticoagulant and anti-platelet drugs, herbs, and supplements. Anticoagulant and anti-platelet drugs, herbs, and supplements reduce blood clotting. It is possible that taking fish oil supplements with these drugs, herbs, or supplements may increase one’s risk of bleeding.
- Blood pressure drugs, herbs, and supplements. As we talked about before, taking fish oil supplements can slightly lower blood pressure. Taking these fish oil supplements with blood pressure drugs, herbs, or supplements may increase these effects on blood pressure.
- Contraceptive drugs. Some contraceptive drugs have been shown to interfere with the way fish oil affects triglycerides.
- Orlistat (Xenical, Alli). Taking fish oil supplements with the weight-loss drug Orlistat may decrease the absorption of Omega-3 fatty acids. Some have tried taking the supplement and the drug two hours apart with success.
- Vitamin E. Taking fish oil supplements may reduce vitamin E levels, therefore reducing the effects of Vitamin E supplementation.
Generally, however, fish oil is very safe. For more information about the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, read more.
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