Serotonin levels in your brain are responsible for feelings of calm and well being, but low serotonin levels can cause depression. Depression has grown increasingly common in the 20th century and researchers now believe that it’s because of reduced levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the modern diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish and fish oil, and researchers have found that increasing dietary levels of omega-3 fatty acids can help raise levels of serotonin in the brain and alleviate feelings of depression.
Serotonin Levels and Depression
Researchers believe that low levels of serotonin, a neurohormone responsible for feelings of calm and well being, may be the cause of major depression. Your brain makes its own serotonin from tryptophan, an essential amino acid. Serotonin passes messages from one brain cell to another. It’s responsible for mood, appetite, sleep, libido, memory, learning, body temperature and even some of your social behaviors.
Omega-3s and Brain Function
Your brain makes its own serotonin, however, it can’t function normally if it doesn’t get enough omega-3 fatty acids. You have to get them from your diet because your body can’t manufacture them. Omega-3 fatty acids are found mostly in fish, especially oily fish like salmon, cod and tuna. Eating more oily fish and using fish oil supplements helps to regulate serotonin levels in your brain.
How Omega-3 Fatty Acids Affect Serotonin Levels
Researchers have found that fish oil supplements may be an effective treatment for depression. Research has shown that taking fish oil supplements that are high in omega-3 fatty acids can significantly increase serotonin levels and relieve the symptoms of depression.
Research has found that those suffering from depressive disorders, like major depression and bipolar disorder, have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their red blood cells. Red blood cell membranes normally contain omega-3 fatty acids and scientists believe that it’s the presence of these fatty acids in the cell membrane that facilitates the passage of serotonin from one cell to another.
Diet and Depression
Some psychiatrists believe that recent changes in the American diet may be contributing to the rise in depression symptoms among Americans. Over the past few decades, Americans have cut down on their consumption of eggs, fish and red meat, all good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Although consumption of these foods may cause other health problems, such as high cholesterol levels and weight gain, they are still good sources of omega-3s.
Fish Oil Supplements are a Safe Source of Omega-3s
Doctors believe that the safest way to restore omega-3 fatty acids to your diet is to consume fish oil. Eating fish could be dangerous, due to the presence of mercury and pesticides in the fish, and eating too much red meat can contribute to heart disease. Doctors recommend taking three grams of fish oil daily, though they caution that you should avoid cod liver oil, since it contains high levels of vitamin A and could cause vitamin A toxicity.