Study: Omega 3s may help with anxiety

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

A previous blog post discussed probiotics and anxiety (1), a recent review article examined whether omega-3 fatty acid treatment is associated with an improvement in anxiety (2).

What are omega 3 fatty acids?
• Omega-3 polyunsaturated are dietary fatty acids (PUFAs) that include alpha linoleic acid (ALA) which then converted to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (3).
• They are nutrients that cannot be made by the human body so we must get them through foods or supplements (3).

What was the study?
The study authors (2) reviewed 19 clinical trials including 2240 participants from 11 countries.

What were the results?

• The authors (2) found an association of improved anxiety symptoms with omega-3 treatment compared with controls groups in both placebo-controlled and non–placebo-controlled trials.
• They also found stronger anti-anxiety effect of omega-3’s when anxiety symptoms were more severe (clinical) than less severe (subclinical) populations (2).

How much omega 3s were used in the studies?

In the review of 19 clinical trials (2), anti-anxiety benefits occurred when using atleast 2grams per day of omega 3s, DHA and EPA combined.

The results did not differ whether the amount of epa was more than or less than 60% of total omega 3s.

What are some caveats?
• The populations studied were broad which makes it difficult to generalize to specific populations like college students.
• Some of the studies had a small sample size.
• There were a broad range of benefits in different studies.
• Omega 3s can interact with medications and supplements.

• Talk to your health provider before considering omega 3’s.

Based on the research findings, not everyone will have the same benefits from omega 3’s.

What are some sources of omega 3s?
According to the National Institute of Health(3), sources of omega 3’s include:
• Fish and other seafood (especially cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines)
• Nuts and seeds (such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts)
• Plant oils (such as flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil)
• Fortified foods (such as certain brands of eggs, yogurt, juices, milk, soy beverages, and infant formulas)
• Omega-3 dietary supplements include fish oil, krill oil, cod liver oil, and algal oil (a vegetarian source that comes from algae). They come in a wide range of doses and forms.

How much omega 3s do I need per day?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends consuming no more than 3 g/day of EPA and DHA combined, including up to 2 g/day from dietary supplements (3).

Where can I learn more about omega 3s?

What are some resources to improve nutrition?
• Nutrition coaching with The OSU Student Wellness Center
• Nutritionist at The OSU Wilce Wilce Student Health center
• Nutritionist at The OSU Wexner medical center
• Nutrition books
• Take a nutrition class
• Take a look at the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Harvard’s page on nutritional psychiatry.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

2. Su KP, Tseng PT, Lin PY, et al. Association of Use of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids With Changes in Severity of Anxiety Symptoms: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA 0Netw Open. 2018;1(5):e182327. Published 2018 Sep 14. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.2327