“Take Omega-3s, they are good for your mood…”
“DHA is good for the developing brain…”
So what are omega-3? We have seen them at nutritional supplement stores, we have seen them in baby formulas, but what are they? The full name for omega-3 is polyunsaturated fatty acids; they are also called essential fatty acids, which means our body can’t make them efficiently. We need to eat foods like, fish, spinach and nuts, to help our body getting the omega-3 it needs. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) both belong to the omega-3 family, they are important in that DHA makes up a third of the fatty acids in our brain, while EPA is able to balance the immune function our body. Recently, there had been studies investigating whether taking in more omega-3 will make a depressed person less depressed, and a child with attention problems more attentive in class.
Depression is a devastating disorder, not only to the affected individual, but also to the family and friends of the individual. Although there are more than 50 types of antidepressants available on the market, half of the patients fail to recover after 1 year of treatment (Thase, 2007). Hence, the treatment for depression still calls for many scientists to undertake investigations in potential agents, and one of them is omega-3. Epidemiologist as early as in the 1990s, have shown countries with lower fish consumption, such as France and New Zealand, had higher annual prevalence rate of depression when compared to countries with higher fish consumption, such as Taiwan, which is the country I am coming from. Scientists had also found that people with depression have lower levels of omega-3 in their bodies than those without depression (Lin et al., 2010). Furthermore, people with depression taking omega-3 supplements have improvement in depressive symptoms (Lin and Su, 2007). More interestingly, a recent study has found that omega-3 has protective effect in patients vulnerable to depression, for example, in people with hepatitis C viral infection receiving interferon-alpha treatment, where about one third of patient develop depression during the treatment course (Su et al., 2014). Hence, omega-3 as a potential treatment choice for depression is quite established.
Omega-3 may also help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to pay more attention in class and to have more social behaviour when interacting with others. Children with ADHD often have difficulties in carrying out daily tasks requiring organization skills (planning study schedule), attention (listening to teacher in class), and self-control (waiting for their turn, not playing around with their fingers or small toys in class); even as adults, they are 3 times more likely to get into car accidents, more likely to lose their jobs, and more likely to develop depression. Studies show that children with ADHD have less omega-3 in their body when compared with children without ADHD (Stevens et al., 1995, Chen et al., 2004, Germano et al., 2007). Moreover, children who have less omega-3 in their body are more inattentive, impulsive and hyperactive. Since omega-3 is important for our brain and body, we suggest that taking additional omega-3 may help children with ADHD to achieve better academic performance by improving their attention.
In short, Omega-3 are essential fatty acids important for our brain and body, and have been associated with improving mood and attention. As omega-3 have already been proven to be effective in treating depression, I believe it will not be long until omega-3 have been proven to be effective in treating ADHD.
Chen JR, Hsu SF, Hsu CD, Hwang LH and Yang SC (2004) Dietary patterns and blood fatty acid composition in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in Taiwan. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry 15, 467-72.
Germano M, Meleleo D, Montonrfano G, Adorni L, Negroni M, Berra B and Rizzo AM (2007) Plasma, red blood cells phospholipids and clinical evaluation after long chain omega-3 supplementation in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Nutritional Neuroscience 10, 1-9.
Lin PY, Huang SY and Su KP (2010) A meta-analytic review of polyunsaturated fatty acid compositions in patients with depression. Biological Psychiatry 68, 140-7.
Lin PY and Su KP (2007). A meta-analytic review of double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of antidepressant efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 68, 1056-61.
Stevens LJ, Zentall SS, Deck JL, Abate ML, Watkins BA, Lipp SR, and Burgess JR (1995). Essential fatty acid metabolism in boys with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 62, 761-8.
Su KP, Lai HC, Yang HT, Su WP, Peng CY, Chang JP, Chang HC and Pariante CM (2014). Omega-3 fatty acids in the prevention of interferon-alpha-induced depression: results from a randomized, controlled trial. Biological Psychiatry 76, 559-66.
Thase ME (2007). Molecules that mediate mood. New England Journal of Medicine 357, 2400-2.