How can we use food to improve our mood - Part 2.

Vixx By Vixx, 12th May 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Health>Diet & Nutrition

Another look at different foods that can help us to improve our moods.

What will Omega 3 and Omega 6 do for our mental health?

Where we looked at certain foods to help enhance serotonin and help our moods in the last blog, there is something else that has been found to play a huge part in helping our brains and moods, and many people do not have much of these particular items in their diets at all.

These particular items have many different functions within the body, including assisting in reducing inflammation within the body, as well as possibly helping to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease and cancer. They are also being researched as to its function in improving memory and learning, and having possible benefits for people with depression and mood disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia to name a few.

So what are these wonder nutrients?

The answer is Omega 3, and Omega 6 – essential fatty acids that we need to take in through our diets as our bodies do not make it, and which the majority of the population do not eat in a quantity large enough to have the benefits that we are looking for. We hear a lot about Omega 3 and Omega 6 and how beneficial they can be for us, but the majority of people get too much Omega 6 in the diet and nowhere near enough Omega 3. A deficiency of either (or both) is thought to contribute to issues regarding the brain, such as poor memory function, difficulty with learning, mood imbalances and issues with depression and anxiety.

Omega 6 can be found in plant foods, and oils such as sunflower oil, evening primrose oil, nuts such as cashews, eggs, cereals and avocados. It is eaten more often than Omega 3 – where the recommended ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is 3:1 or 4:1, it can be found to be as high as 24:1 in some people! This imbalance will not help benefit any of the issues already noted, and can actually cause a likelihood of some diseases rather than helping improve them. The better the balance between these two essential fatty acids, then the more chance there is of assisting the improvement of the conditions listed below:

- Depression
- Mood swings
- Schizophrenia
- Cognitive and behavioural functions

Deficiencies in Omega 3 are much more common (which is why I will focus mainly on Omega 3 deficiency) and are thought to contribute to or exacerbate issues with:

- Attention Deficit Disorder
- Dyslexia
- Bipolar disorder
- Memory function
- Learning abilities.

The best sources of Omega 3 are found in oily fish – which many people don’t eat, or eat enough of. Thus many people are deficient in this particular nutrient, and it can be detrimental to health in the long term. A lot of studies have been done to look at performance in memory and learning with children and the results have shown that children have improved in their schoolwork and their ability to learn and concentrate when they have been given Omega 3 supplements.

Two-thirds of our brain are made up of essential fatty acids, thus it makes sense that in order to help maintain our brains we should ensure that we are resupplying the brain with what it needs to function best. There is a substance that protects the neurons in the brain called myelin sheath. It is made up of 30% protein and a whopping 70% fat! Omega 3 and 6 are different to what we perceive as ‘fat’ as they actually perform these functions within the body, unlike the fat we are more familiar with that is just stored around the body as a back-up energy source. Our synapses have been found to be central to functions like learning and memory, and have a beneficial ‘plasticity’ that allows these functions to occur effectively. Omega 3 essential fatty acids have been found to help these synapses in the brain to function better, and studies are starting to look at how these essential fatty acids may help to ease symptoms of depression and other mood disorders.

The largest survey has been conducted in Norway, where 22,000 people were studied and it was found that those who took regular doses of Cod Liver Oil were 30% less likely to suffer from mood disorders – particularly symptoms of depression – than those who did not take Cod Liver Oil. That’s not to say it was a magic cure – but 30% less symptoms can be quite significant for people. The study also found that the longer the participants had taken the oil, the less likely it was that any symptoms would be indicating high depressive levels, allowing the possibility that depressive symptoms would be more manageable.

Another study, this time in Ireland, looked at the effects of taking Omega 3’s on a small group of people who self-harmed. One group were given a high dose of Omega 3 essential fatty acids, and the other group were given a placebo. The group with the Omega 3’s reported better improvements in scores for depression, suicidality and coping with daily stress.

As well as these more specific studies, other studies, using people who are still suffering the effects of mood disorders despite taking anti-depressants, have reported decreased intensity of feelings of depression and anxiety, less sleep disturbances and reduced issues of sexual dysfunction when supplementing with Omega 3 fatty acids as well as taking their medication.

The best way to get Omega 3 and 6 into the body is through the food we eat, and in the main, Omega 6 is not usually deficient in most people’s diet, but supplementation of Omega 3 is a good method, in case getting the amount of food required is proving difficult. Supplementation (with Cod Liver Oil or Fish Oil supplements) should be avoided if you are taking blood thinners such as warfarin or aspirin as it can cause problems. If that’s the situation that you are in, then try to increase the amounts of Omega 3 foods in your diet.

Omega 6, if taken in too high an amount can actually increase inflammation, and it has been recommended that should you suffer from epilepsy or seizures’, discussing your situation with a medical professional before supplementing extra Omega 6 into the diet is important, as it is possible that you are already getting a sufficient amount.

So, what foods should we be eating to ensure we are getting Omega 3 and 6 into our diets?

As stated before, Omega 3 foods tend to be mainly oily-fish based. Omega 6 foods tend to be plant/seed based. Oils play a big part in both Omega 3 and 6. Let’s have a look at what is best for both.

Omega 3:
- Sardines
- Shrimps
- Cod
- Tuna
- Halibut
- Mackerel
- Flaxseed
- Soybeans
- Tofu
- Kale

Omega 6:
- Hemp seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Walnuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Almonds
- Walnuts
- Pistachios
- Olives
- Corn Oil
- Sunflower oil.

A lot of the oils that we cook with or use in our diets today contain Omega 6, and they are often used in processed products, and this is often why our ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is out of kilter in many people as they are more readily found in our diet.

If the Omega 6 and Omega 3 ratio can be brought back into balance then this is where we may see more of the health benefits that have been mentioned. It is when these two are out of balance that we can see negative impact such as inflammation occurring.

Other health benefits can include:

Omega 3:
- Protecting cell membranes.
- Reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Reducing symptoms of hypertension and joint pain.
- Reducing symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and depression.
- Potentially boosting the immune system and protecting against dementia-related issues.

Omega 6:
- Can support skin health.
- Can help to lower cholesterol.
- Assisting the blood in its clotting mechanisms.
- Can assist in alleviating symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Can assist in alleviating allergy symptoms (but talk to your GP before using Omega 6 for this purpose, and keep a diary of symptom improvement or lack of).
- Can assist in reducing ADHD symptoms.

This is only a small look at a big subject, and a lot of the Omega 3 and 6 benefits are still being researched to finds out what other benefits they may have upon the body, but these are some of the things that having a correct balance of Omega 3/6 can assist in improving.

It will not be an overnight improvement, but by looking at the foods listed above, you will be able to see if you are likely to be getting too much or too little of these essential fats and make adjustments accordingly to help you to start improving YOU.


Essential Fatty Acids, Food, Improving Mental Mood, Mood, Omega 3, Omega 6

Meet the author

author avatar Vixx
I like to write about fitness, nutrition, my running efforts and race reviews.

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author avatar Eileen Ward Birch
31st May 2013 (#)

I don't really like most oily fish.

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author avatar Vixx
31st May 2013 (#)

Have you considered flaxseed oil Eileen? I cannot eat most fish, so I use flaxseeds, or the oil instead. You can pick it up from health food shops and it's not overly expensive.

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