Chances are you have already heard of omegas, especially if you are health conscious or have read previous posts on this blog. The mighty essential fatty acids omega 3 and 6 are power houses of energy and also have a fantastic range of health benefits which covers the whole body (from head to toe).
Awareness of these omegas (which have to be ingested as the body cannot make them – hence the term “essential” fatty acids) is fast increasing in the nutrition world and they are already celebrated for their anti-inflammatory effects. They also benefit our cardiovascular health, for example they help to reduce risks of high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes, as well as playing a large role in the function of our central nervous system and possessing growth and development properties.
However, our 21st century diets have created a reduced ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 (meaning we are consuming more foods such as olive oil, peanuts, sunflower seeds, bacon and margarine and less sardines, salmon, flax seeds and walnuts) which has disturbed the omega balance and leaves many of us deficient in omega 3.
A research paper published in the the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging in 2011 (1) has highlighted this decrease in the level of omega 3 in our diets and related it to the decline of our mental health. More specifically, the paper discusses the link between this dietary change and higher levels of depression as omega 3 deficiency can cause abnormal neurotransmitter activity. The hormones serotonin and dopamine are affected by this disturbance and these play a large role in the control and stability of our mind, cognition, mood, personality and overall mental state. Hence Omega 3 deficiency could leave us at risk of cognitive health problems.
The research paper (1) focuses on the elderly, who universally have concerns over independence, social life and functional decline which can all influence the onset of depression in the individual. Conversely, depression can also cause these concerns to become substantially worse and depression is associated with a higher mortality rate in the elderly compared with those that are not depressed. This highlights how important and prevalent this issue is for this age group.
The study supplemented depressed elderly women aged between 65-95 years who were residents of a care home with 2.5g/day of omega 3 or a placebo for 8 weeks. The researchers investigated the effects of supplementation on depressive symptoms measured by Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS). After the 8 weeks of supplementation the authors reported that those who were supplemented with omega 3 had significant reductions in their GDS scores, while the placebo group did not experience such a reduction. It could be that these individuals were deficient in omega 3 and this explains why supplementing their diets caused such an improvement in their depressive states. These findings have fantastic potential for the prevention and improvement of such cognitive disturbances in all age groups including the elderly, and shows that it is never too late to try to improve health.
If you don’t eat more than 2 portions of oily fish per week (such as sardines and salmon) or include plenty of flax and pumpkin seeds in your diet then you may like to consider trying a fish oil or flax seed supplement to increase your omega 3 intake. You should always consult your Health Advisor or GP before starting any new supplement regimen.
Written by Lauren Foster
(1) RONDANELLI, M., GIACOSA, A., OPIZZI, A., PELUCCHI, C., LA VECCHIA, C., MONTORFANO, G., NEGRONI, M., BERRA, B., POLITI, P. & RIZZO, A.M. (2011). Long chain omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in the treatment of elderly depression.The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, 15, 1, 37-44.