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  • Simon Maguire

A Quick and Oily Solution for Maintaining Good Mental Health

We all like quick and easy wins, so why not consider getting some more omega - 3 fatty acids into your diet?

Omega fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that are essential for maintaining overall health. There are three types of omega fatty acids - omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 - and each plays a different role in the body.

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain function, reducing inflammation, and preventing heart disease. Good dietary sources of omega-3s include fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, as well as plant-based sources like flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds. Omega-6 fatty acids are important for regulating inflammation and promoting skin health. Good dietary sources of omega-6s include vegetable oils, such as corn and soybean oil.

Omega-9 fatty acids are not technically considered essential, as the body can produce them on its own. However, consuming foods that are high in omega-9s, such as olive oil and avocados, has been shown to have health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease.

Western diets are skewed heavily toward a high omega- 6 to omega-3 ratio of approximately 15:1, compared with the diet on which human beings evolved and their genetic patterns were established was more likely closer to an omega ratio of 1:1. Excessive consumption of omega-6s can promote inflammation and increase the risk of chronic diseases.

But what about mental health? Dietary deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with an increased risk of developing various psychiatric disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and autism. In particular, two types of omega- 3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid have been linked to the maintenance of mental health, and their deficits have been implicated in the pathophysiology of mental disorders.

Although it is hard to define what the ideal ratio is, it is clear that most people would benefit from some additional omega-3 intake to offset the ratio caused by the naturally higher levels of omega-6s we encounter in the average UK diet. Whilst there isn't sufficient evidence to say that supplementing our diets with more omega-3 fatty acids will make us happier, it does seem that it could reduce our chances of developing physical and psychological disorders.

As a result of my exploration into polyunsaturated fats, my breakfast has evolved to contain a tablespoon of walnuts, flaxseed and a teaspoon of fish oil. I'm also more conscious of consuming less crisps, chips, processed and deep fried foods. Have I noticed a significant improvement in my overall health in the last few months? Well, I was already doing a number of things to improve my physical and psychological well-being so it is hard to tell. One thing I am certain of is that, the synergistic effect of multiple interventions add up to make a big difference and the addition of omega-3s was a pretty easy and satisfying one. It's worth talking to a healthcare professional as taking large amounts of omega-3 supplementation can interact negatively with some medications and health conditions.

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  1. Calder PC. Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: from molecules to man. Biochemical Society Transactions. 2017 Oct 15;45(5):1105-15.

  2. Simopoulos AP. Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: the backgroud. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2007;97:1-16.

  3. Kris-Etherton PM, Taylor DS, Yu-Poth S, Huth P, Moriarty K, Fishell V, Hargrove RL, Zhao G, Etherton TD. Polyunsaturated fatty acids in the food chain in the United States. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2000 Jan 1;71(1):179S-88S.

  4. Simopoulos, A. P. (2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy, 56(8), 365-379.

  5. Lin, P. Y., Mischoulon, D., Freeman, M. P., Matsuoka, Y., Hibbeln, J., Belmaker, R. H., et al. (2012b). Are omega-3 fatty acids antidepressants or just mood-improving agents? The effect depends upon diagnosis, supplement preparation and severity of depression. Mol. Psychiatry 17, 1161–1163; author reply 1163–1167. doi: 10.1038/mp.2012.111

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