Capt. Hibbeln, M.D., explains the association between Omega-3 fatty acid intake and depression.
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Depression and Omega-3 Fatty Acid For nearly 20 years I have been working in the field of asking if deficiencies, dietary and tissue deficiencies of long chain omega-3 fatty acids, increase risk of depression, suicide, violence and other abhorrent behaviors, and whether or not these omega-3 fatty acids can be used to treat these disorders by eliminating the nutritional deficiency. And I think it’s very important to understand that this is not the use of mega doses of an abnormal substance in an odd situation because these fats are essential. It’s really simply the restoration of a deficiency just as you don’t wish to be deficient in iodine and have thyroid disease, or you don’t wish to be deficient in vitamin B12 or foliate and have other neurological problems. One of the reasons for this formulation is that essential fatty acids used to be thought of showing their deficiencies in terms of skin problems. When people are deficient they often have drier flaky skin and have hair that’s brittle and they start taking the omega-3s and their hair starts to glow and their skin looks a lot nicer. But these fatty acids really work in the brain and the immune system in the heart and if the brain is deficient you get dysfunction of the brain. So I like to say you get flaky brain. So I have looked at the question of deficiency of omega-3s on several different levels of scientific enquiry all the way from cross-national studies of fish intake in countries down to the cellular and molecular level. So the big picture, and I think what really started the field rolling, was the finding that when you look across countries that eat a great deal of fish the rate of depression is 50 times lower than countries where a little fish is eaten. And this is true for major depression; this is true for bipolar disorder; this is true for postpartum depression, and it’s also true for homicide mortality. Homicide mortality is pretty easy to count. And in each of these cases we now have data that when you move someone’s diet and tissue status from the low-country state to the high-country state you see profound reductions in the symptoms of depression in pregnancy, after pregnancy and marked decreases in violence and aggression.