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Omega-3 Fatty Acid Deficiency and the Cause of Mental Depression

written by: 00orange00 • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/7/2010

Mental depression is very strongly related to essential fatty acid levels in the body. Brain cells require the highest concentration of essential fatty acids of any of the body's tissues. This is because optimum brain function requires optimum membrane activity.

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    Depression and Omega-3's

    What are the causes of mental depression? Depression is now one of the most commonly diagnosed conditions in the world. Apparently one in four Americans is prescribed with anti-depressant medication. Elsewhere, as Western diets takes over indigenous foods of previously healthy peoples Western illnesses and mental states become more and more common. This fact alone sugestss that the causes of mental depression and other Western illnesses appear, suspiciously, to be aligned to the diets of the people who suffer from these maladies.

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    Brain Cells have a Special Requirement for Fatty Acids

    Brain cells have the greatest need for omega-3 fatty acids anywhere in the body. Red blood cells contain just one fifth of the omega-3 of nerve cells. Brain tissues are given priority over all other bodily tissues, and are normally maintained in a state of optimum nutritional status. However, if the whole body is very deficient in essential fatty acids, as is so often the case, then even the nerve cells and brain cells of such a person may suffer a deficiency in omega 3 fatty acids. Significant causes of mental depression are based in the fatty acid makeup of the brain.

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    Omega-3 and the Brain Chemisty of Depression

    Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the body predict low levels of 5-HIAA (5 – hydroxyindoleacetic acid ) which is a breakdown product of serotonin. Serotonin is the brain neuro-transmitter which plays an important role in your ability to stay happy. In severely depressed persons the level of the serotonin breakdown product, 5-HIAA is extremely low.

    The reason the serotonin breakdown product level is low, in these cases, is simply because the serotonin (from which this molecule is being formed) is also low. By deduction, it follows, omega-3 fatty acid levels in the body are related to the ability of the brain to produce and use serotonin.

    Studies have found a clear correlation between a low intake of EPA and DHA (omega - 3 fatty acids which are found in fish and fish oil) and the prevalence of depression. In contrast, the lowest rates of depression in the world are associated with areas where the greatest amount of fish is consumed per capita.

    Persons suffering from major depression have been found to be have very low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their tissues, and especially DHA, very low levels of omega-3 essential fatty acids in serum and red blood cells. Also, adipose tissue levels of DHA are highest in individuals who suffer the lowest incident of depression.

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    Why omega 3 is So Important In the Brain

    Omega - 3 fatty acids are very important to the brain because they provide the basic structural component of brain tissue membranes. The specific omega-3 fatty acid that is found abundantly in the brain tissues is abbreviated "DHA".

    DHA is the omega-3 fatty acid which is found in cold water fish. It is also which is manufactured in the body from alpha-linoleic acid. This is the omega-3 fatty acid that is found in plant foods such as flax seed oil. DHA is the basic structural component of brain tissue membranes, as well as the retina of the eye. DHA in the brain cell membranes provides the fluid, elastic composition, and superior protein anchoring properties that brain cells need for optimum performance.

    Optimum membrane structure and enzyme function is necessary in the brain because brain cell process are extremely rapid. Chemical messengers must be constantly synthesized, released and degraded at very rapid rates. Optimum membrane integrity is need for this. In a situation with less than optimum membrane integrity you could expect sub-optimum levels of the necessary brain chemicals such as seratonin. So, it is no surprise to find that this is actually the case. When low levels of DHA are observed in the developing bodies of children this has been associated with depression, memory loss, dementia and visual problems in later year and Attention and learning difficulties in younger years.

    For information on how to get the omega-3's you need for better health (and happiness) visit the articles on "How to Get Omega 3 Oils in Your Diet", and " Tips on Supplementing Omega-3's Using Flax Seed Oil". Also, check out " Good Fats & Bad Fats: Understanding Different Oils and Fats".


    Murray, T. N.D. and Jade Beutler, R.R.T., R.C.P.,(1996). Understanding Fats & Oils, Progressive Health Publishing, Encinitas, CA.

    Gordon, Garry, M.D., D.O., M.D.(H.), Herb Joiner-Bey, N.D.(2004).The Omega-3 Miracle. Freedom Press, Topanga, CA