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April 2012

Eating Fish May Reduce Symptoms of Depression

Consuming fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the severity of depression symptoms, according to a recent study.

Previous research has suggested that eating certain varieties of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), may help relieve symptoms of depression. In a new study, scientists analyzed this link by examining data from 10,480 men and women who had participated in the 2005-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The information included fish consumption during a 30-day period and intake of EPA and DHA.

The results showed that consuming breaded fish resulted in more severe depression symptoms. However, higher intake of EPA and DHA from fresh fish was significantly linked to experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.

The authors concluded that eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids may benefit people who are suffering from depression. However, further studies are needed to confirm these findings.

The primary essential fatty acids in the human diet are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish oil and certain plant and nut oils. Omega-6 fatty acids are primarily provided in the diet by palm, soybean, rapeseed, and sunflower oils. Omega-9 fatty acids are not considered essential, because they can be produced within the body. Sources of omega-9 fatty acids include animal fat and olive oil. Fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA); some nuts (English walnuts), seeds (flaxseed), and vegetable oils (canola, soybean, flaxseed/linseed, olive) contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body.

The optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is 4:1, while the American diet generally provides a ratio of 20-30:1. In the United States, the percentages of DHA and EPA have been found to be lower than in other nations with lower cardiac disease incidence, such as Japan.

Omega-3 fatty acids have long been known to play critical roles in growth but have more recently suggested as providing a wide range of health benefits, several of which are well supported in the literature, including reductions in the risk of coronary heart disease and regulating cholesterol. Studies investigating treatment of other conditions, such as cancer and certain psychological or neurological disorders (depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)), have also shown promising early results. Due to these and other purported health benefits, fish oil, naturally rich in omega-3 fatty acids, has gained popularity as a dietary supplement.

For more information about omega-3 fatty acids, please visit Natural Standard's Foods, Herbs & Supplements Database.


  1. Hoffmire CA, Block RC, Thevenet-Morrison K, et al. Associations between omega-3 poly-unsaturated fatty acids from fish consumption and severity of depressive symptoms: An analysis of the 2005-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2012 Apr 1. View Abstract
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine.
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