This Supplement May Actually Help With Anxiety, Says Harvard

Updated 05/06/19
@gerihirsch

If you know you're a person that's prone to anxiety, there are a myriad of steps you can take to mitigate the symptoms outside of and/or in addition to traditional therapy or prescription medication. Spending time outside, exercising, meditation, deep breathing, drinking lots of water, curbing caffeine and alcohol intake, and getting plenty of sleep are just a few examples.

But as board-certified psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School David Mischoulon, MD, PhD writes for Harvard Health, you may be able to add taking omega-3 supplements to that list. Intrigued by the fact that depression is actually less common in nations where people consume a lot of fish, which is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, scientists sought to determine whether fish oils may be used to treat depression and anxiety. 

"Two omega-3 fatty acids—eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—are thought to have the most potential to benefit people with mood disorders," writes Mischoulon. "Omega-3s can easily travel through the brain cell membrane and interact with mood-related molecules inside the brain. They also have anti-inflammatory actions that may help relieve depression." 

At his practice, he typically recommends one to two grams of an EPA+DHA combination of omega-3s per day for patients with depression. He cautions that omega-3s may bring on the mania phase in patients with bipolar disorder, as can anti-depressants, and is far more cautious.

He also mentions that, while meta-analyses generally suggest that omega-3s are effective, "The findings are not unanimous because of variability between doses, ratios of EPA to DHA, and other study design issues," he explains. Therefore, "omega-3 fatty acids are promising natural treatments for mood disorders, but we need more research about how they work, how effective they really are, and their long-term safety before we can make conclusive recommendations for people managing mental health conditions or who wish to improve mood." 

Speak with your doctor before considering supplementation with omega-3s, and head over to Harvard Health for more information.

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