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The Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Mental Health Care

December 19, 2017
Rakesh Jain

In this occasional feature on Psych Congress Network, members of the Psych Congress Steering Committee answer questions asked by audience members at Psych Congress meetings.

QUESTION: What do you see as the role of omega-3 for modulating immune activity or inflammation? Do you generally recommend it for everyone, just for certain targeted symptoms, or for those who eat low fish amounts?

Your Questions AnsweredANSWER: The very fact that you asked this question tells me a few important things about your thinking. I congratulate you first for your willingness to look at complementary and alternative options to help our patients.

Omega-3 fatty acids do indeed play a significant role in modulating both immune activity and inflammation. But in addition to that, there’s emerging evidence that individuals who ingest lower amounts of omega-3 fatty acids are at heightened risk of developing depression. The studies with omega-3 have not been universally positive; it appears they may be most effective when inflammation is elevated, and less so in people with normal levels of inflammation.

I do recommend optimized nutrition for everyone, and part of optimized nutrition indeed is to improve the ingestion of omega-3 fatty acids. There are several issues I consider when I make such a recommendation. If I have patients who have had a suboptimal response to classic antidepressants, or if a patient has a personal or strong family history of cardiac disease and/or obesity, I strongly urge them to optimize their nutrition and increase their weekly omega-3 ingestion. There are many sources of omega-3 fatty acids, including cold-water dwelling fish such as tuna and salmon and vegetarian sources such as flaxseed, soy, and walnuts.

Our moms were right—we are what we eat!

— Psych Congress cochair Rakesh Jain, MD, MPH, Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Texas Tech Health Sciences Center School of Medicine, Midland


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