Omega-3s, the fatty acids found in foods like fish oil and nuts, have been linked to improved memory and heart health. But recent research suggests omega-3s may also reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety . Oh my-omega, these fatty acids are good.
Singing the Blues — Why It Matters
Omega-3s can fight coronary heart disease, cancer, and Crohn’s disease with their anti-inflammatory properties. It turns out their superpowers don’t end there— the fatty acids may help treat depressive symptoms the same way. A number of studies suggest a link between inflammation and depression   . It isn’t clear that inflammation directly causes depressive symptoms, but inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis are often accompanied by depressive disorders . (As if achy joints aren’t enough of a problem.) And depression doesn’t just bring on the blues— watch out for sneaky cytokine, a protein that promotes inflammation  .
Here’s where omega-3s step in. Fatty acids get their game on by reducing cytokine levels, a reduction that may help fight depression and anxiety. In one recent study, medical students who took omega-3 supplements produced fewer cytokines and saw their anxiety levels plummet . (Perhaps the Grey’s Anatomy team should consider popping some omega-3s.) A smile in fatty-acid form, omega-3 supplements may also ease symptoms of bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and other mood disorders  .
Plus, research suggests that high levels of omega-3s in fish could help prevent mood disorders . (Sushi, anyone?) Countries with high fish consumption— such as Taiwan and Japan— have a lower risk of depression than countries like France and Canada. And in another study, New Zealand citizens who ate fish reported better mental health than those who didn’t . Surf’s up!
Something Smells Fishy — The Answer/Debate
But omega-3s might not be all-out superheroes Some studies have found omega-3 trials over-hyped the positives of the fatty acids or showed little evidence of omega-3 supplements' ability to treat depression  . Research has also shown certain types of omega-3s are more effective than others at reducing such symptoms .
Those who want to load up on omega-3s should be careful about choosing sources of the fatty acids. Fish is a great source of omega-3s, but beware, expectant mothers. While the amount of mercury in a single serving of seafood isn’t big enough to warrant concern, the chemicals in fish could possible hurt a fetus’s developing nervous system. Those who aren’t friends of the sea (sorry, Charlie the Tuna) can feast on fatty acids in tofu, soybeans, walnuts, and canola oil. Pill-popping’s always another option, and dietary supplements like fish oil and flaxseed oil could also aid the anti-inflammatory properties of antidepressants .