Does Omega 3 Help Depression?

Can omega 3 help depression? One of the biggest theories about the benefits of omega 3 is the theory of nations. There’s proof that nations that consume more fish have a significant reduction in depression compared to nations that have low fish consumption.

Evidence in preliminary studies with depressed patients reveal that omega 3 can certainly help with reducing or eliminating depression. Animal studies also showed that consumption of fish oil works well as an antidepressant.

Does Omega 3 help depression - What is Omega 3?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of three fats: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

The body converts ALA into DHA and EPA, but at a rate of only 5%. Therefore, dietitians recommend focusing on consuming DHA and EPA fatty acids.

Does Omega 3 help depression - What does Omega 3 do?

The omega 3 fatty acids in the fish oil serve as energy for the muscles, heart, and other organs, as building blocks for cell membranes and as energy storage for the body.

Omega 3 fatty acids are known for an impressive list of health benefits for the brain, eyes, nervous system, and cardiovascular system. The fatty acids boost the immune system, and potentially even provide protection from certain types of cancer.

Omega 3s affect the body in three important ways(1):

  1. Reduce inflammation,
  2. Increase blood flow and are very important for the structure of membranes that surround brain cells, and
  3. Reduction of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The most exciting and important benefit of fatty acids is the benefits in eliminating cardiovascular disease. An example of these is the study of cardiovascular disease in native Eskimos, whose diet rely on the heavy consumption of fish such as salmon and other fish products.

There is also a strong association with taking DHA at 900 to 1000 mg and having a significant reduction in Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, a study with older adults showed an increased mental capacity to perform tests to at least a brain age level of 3 to 7 years younger(1).

Omega 3 has blood thinning and anti-clotting properties that could be dangerous for those with clotting disorders. Although DHA has not been associated with bleeding, you should consult your doctor if you have medical issues before consuming higher quantities of omega 3.

Does Omega 3 help depression - Dosage

The recommended amount of consumed omega 3 ranges between 500 to 1,000 mg a day. You can find over 500 mg in a tin of tuna or a few ounces of salmon. Some fortified foods offer 100 mg or more.

Some even suggest that 2 to 4 grams of Omega 3 are necessary for the fight against depression; this is certainly a large amount of omega 3 compared to most dietary supplements that usually contain no more than 1000 mg or less. In this case supplements plus fish rich in fatty acids would have to be consumed to achieve these high omega 3 intake levels.

Does Omega 3 help depression - Foods that contain Omega 3.

There are a variety of foods that contain Omega 3s. Fish oil is the most significant source of omega 3, mainly oils obtained in fish from cold waters.

Unfortunately, almost all fish contain traces of mercury. See the FDA link for a list of fish and their mercury levels. So we must limit consumption of fish to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish that are lower in mercury.

Some great fish sources of omega 3 are:

  • Halibut
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Oysters
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Trout
  • Fresh Tuna. Albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So only eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore white tuna per week.

Do not fry your fish or the olive oil (also a source of omega 3), because frying damages the omega 3.

Fish to avoid

It is important to point out certain fish to avoid due to their mercury levels. For most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern. However, fish with higher levels of mercury may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous system (3).

Here’s a list of fish to avoid due to high concentration of mercury levels:

  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • King mackerel
  • Shark
  • Avoid any kind of raw seafood
  • Farmed Salmon. Although low in mercury, they are a poor source of omega 3, because they do not have the omega 3 rich algae nutrients that wild salmon enjoys.

Other great food sources of Omega 3 include:

  • Fortified Dairy
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseeds
  • Soybeans
  • Navy beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Olive oil
  • Winter squash

Does Omega 3 help depression - Do we really need Omega 3 Supplements?

The short answer is yes. Fish and other foods are always the best sources of omega 3, because they are also going to provide other beneficial vitamins. However, not all of us are able to keep up with the nutrition requirements from our daily diet, so vitamin supplements are always important.

Take a fish oil supplement with a mix of 500 mg per day of EPA and DHA. Both of these fatty acids are complementary to each other and they serve different purposes as essential “good fats” for the brain.

Start your depression self help treatments now

Omega 3 helps depression and is a very important ingredient in treating the deficiencies in our bodies. However, this alone may not be enough to completely end depression. Read the depression treatments on this web site for a list of steps to completely eliminate depression from your life.


(1) Diane Rehm Show. NPR. Retrieved 29 November 2012.

(2 Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D. Is there any benefit to taking fish oil supplements for depression? Retrieved 29 November 2012.

(3) What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish. March 2004. Retrieved 1 Dec 2012.

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