OMEGA 3 BENEFITS
Omega 3 Fish Oils and Diet Help
Clinical depression is a disabling condition in which
life becomes a hopeless morass where there is no joy. In the past,
this condition was called melancholy. You lose pleasure for things
that brought you enjoyment in the past. In fact, it becomes difficult
to conjure up previously happy times. Any motivation for the future,
let alone the next day, evaporates.
Depression has increased significantly in the past century, with
nearly 20 million people now affected by it. The increase in its
incidence correlates very well with our decreasing intake of fish
and fish oil in the same time period.
Psychiatric researchers learned several decades ago that depression
is often caused by lack of the neurotransmitter serotonin. In
fact, drug companies have made billions off of the development
of drugs to boost serotonin levels like Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft,
all of which have become household names. More recent research
has found that even non-depressed people experience an improvement
in their moods when they take one of these drugs. What this indicates
to me is that our nation has developed a serotonin deficiency.
Why? Researchers believe the answer lies in our reduced intake
of long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids. Since one of the benefits of
high-dose fish oil is to increase serotonin levels, it is not
unreasonable to think that the decrease in fish oil consumption
in the past century led to a decrease in the natural levels of
serotonin in the brain.* Furthermore, using an imaging test known
as SPECT, researchers have found that blood flow within a normal
brain is uniform, whereas blood flow in depressed patients is
scattered with "holes" in which little or no blood flow
is observed. Since high-dose fish oil can improve blood flow,
we now have another potential clue to explain the molecular basis
of depression. Finally, the Greenland Eskimos have virtually no
Could it be that simply eating a greater amount of fish is the
answer to this growing incidence of depression? If that is the
case, then there should be a strong correlation between the amount
of fish consumed and the extent of depression.
The rates of depression in Japan are just a fraction of the rates
in America and the rates in other countries where low amounts
of fish are eaten. In fact, New Zealanders have 50 times the rate
of depression as the Japanese and eat the least amount of fish
in the industrialized world. (What's more, they eat very large
amounts of harmful Omega-6 fatty acids). In native Greenland,
Eskimos, who consume some 7-10 grams per day of long-chain Omega-3
fatty acids, have virtually no depression even though their living
conditions can be pretty depressing with only an hour or two of
sunlight a day during the winter months.
Epidemiological studies, however, only indicate association,
not causality. Perhaps the Japanese and Eskimos just have good
genes, and the amount of fish they consume has nothing to do with
it. (That's not what researchers believe, but such confounding
factors can come into play with epidemiological studies.) That
possibility is unlikely since animal studies demonstrate a significant
increase in the amount of serotonin in the frontal cortex of their
brains if they consume high-dose fish compared to animals that
were given a standard diet rich in Omega-6 fats.
These animal studies have been verified by recent research in
humans that indicates the AA/EPA ratio (a ratio of two essential
fatty acids, Arachadonic Acid and Eicosapetenoic Acid) is highly
elevated in the cerebrospinal fluid of depressed patients when
compared to non-depressed patients. Likewise, Belgian studies
indicate that depressed patients have lower levels of total Omega-3
fatty acids in their blood. British researchers have confirmed
A blood test called the AA/EPA ratio measures the amount of Omega
3 compared to Omega 6 in one’s blood as the benchmark for
judging Silent Inflammation in the body. AA, or Arachidonic acid,
is an Omega 6 fat that causes a pro-inflammatory hormonal response,
while EPA, or Eicosapentaenoic acid, is an Omega 3 fat that causes
an anti-inflammatory hormonal response. By balancing this AA/EPA
level in the blood, one will be able to control Silent Inflammation.
The ideal marker for wellness is an AA/EPA ratio of 1.5.
One reason why increased consumption of fish oils would improve
depression is because it causes a reduction in AA (Arachidonic
Acid) levels. In addition, researchers have found that the higher
the intake of fish oil, the greater the improvement in the AA/EPA
ratio. This ratio has also been found to correlate strongly with
the severity of the disease.
All of this research called for an intervention study to determine
the impact that high-dose fish oil could actually have in treating
depression. Andrew Stoll and his colleagues at Harvard Medical
School used exactly this approach in tackling the most severe
form of depression called bipolar depression. Bipolar patients
cycle from the depths of depression to a manic high and then back
again. The most common drugs prescribed for manic-depression,
lithium and valproate, both block the release of arachidonic acid
in the brain. Unfortunately, both drugs (especially lithium) have
significant toxic side effects. So a search for a safer alternative
led Stoll to investigate the use of long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids
found in fish oil.
In Stoll's experiment, one group of patients with bipolar depression
took an ultra-refined fish oil containing 10 grams per day of
long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids. The other group of patients took
a placebo containing olive oil. After four months of the nine-month-long
trial, the researchers ended the trial early because the divergence
between the fish oil group and the control group was so great
that they felt it was unethical to continue the study. (Another
small complicating factor was that the supply of ultra-refined
fish oil provided by the U.S. government had run out.) Even in
this shortened trial, those on the high-dose fish oil experienced
stabilization in their symptoms, while those on the olive oil
control experienced significant worsening of their symptoms.
Now the question is what was happening inside the brain to help
alleviate depression in the patients who took fish oil? A pretty
good assumption is that serotonin levels increased in the brain's
frontal cortex, as has already been demonstrated in animal experiments.
Increased EPA consumption through fish oil supplementation also
probably decreased the AA/EPA ratio in both the cerebrospinal
fluid that bathes the brain and the blood lipids, and this led
to a corresponding decrease in depression. Such a decrease in
the AA/EPA ratio would also reduce the levels of pro-inflammatory
eicosanoids, which would cut off a cycle that leads to the production
of "bad" eicosanoids such as PGE2 that are known to
be increased in the depressed patients. Finally, high-dose fish
oil almost certainly improved blood flow to the depressed patients'
brains, providing a more uniform distribution of critical nutrients
such as oxygen and glucose.
These are some complex and striking consequences for a relatively
simple dietary intervention, yet, as dramatic as these result
were, some believe they could have been even better if the Harvard
researchers had brought these patients' insulin levels under control
(through the Zone dietary recommendations) while supplementing
with even higher levels of fish oil. A lower level of insulin
would have further decreased the production of arachidonic acid,
thus enhancing the benefits of high-dose fish oil supplementation.
In addition, lower insulin levels would have maintained a more
constant supply of blood sugar to the brain.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and
Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose,
treat, cure, or prevent any disease. As with any natural product,
individual results will vary.
For more information about Dr. Barry Sears, his incredible fish
oil supplements, or the popular Zone Diet, please visit www.zoneliving.com.
If you purchase any Zone Labs, Inc. products, part of the
proceeds support CBN ministries.
Dr. Barry Sears is a leader in the field of
dietary control of hormonal response. A former research scientist
at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his efforts over
the past 25 years to the study of lipids and their inflammatory
role in the development of chronic disease. He holds 13 U.S. patents
in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal
regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.
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