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a_brain_functionMental Health and Fatty Acids

The association between mental health and fatty acids is a relatively new finding. Research suggests that foods with good fatty acids, like flaxseed and cold-water fish, may decrease symptoms associated with mental illnesses. Hence, it is necessary to have a healthy lifestyle to reduce symptoms caused by mental health issues like depression and schizophrenia.

Role of Dietary Fats in Emotional Wellbeing

What is the role of dietary fats in emotional well being? Good fatty acids, like Omega-3, are derived from digested food and are not produced by the body. Fatty acids play an important role in brain function and normal growth and development. Omega fatty acids are different than saturated fats. Omega fatty acids are polyunsaturated, therefore healthier for people than other fats. There are three Omega fatty acids. They are Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9.  Omega-3 and 6 are essential as they are not manufactured inside the body and must be absorbed through diet.  When fatty acids are in short supply, the body shows physical and mental signs. A few of these signs are poor memory, mood swings, and dry skin.

Depression is a common emotional diagnosis. Worldwide, depression affects 340 million people and goes undiagnosed in about 50% of cases. Fish oil has been shown in preliminary studies to support a healthy mind and, in turn, help people with mild to moderate depression.  Many of these studies have linked low EPA and DHA levels to depression, but the exact reason why fatty acids affect mental health is still under study. As with any mental health disorder, it is essential to see a doctor to evaluate if a change in diet is necessary or suggested.

There are several ways to ensure the body is receiving enough fatty acids for proper body function. Fatty acids come in a variety of ways. Popular methods are taking capsules of fish oil, increasing the amount of cold-water fish eaten each week, and adding flax seed to meals.

For vegetarians and vegans, ground flaxseed, flaxseed oil, nuts, and dark leafy greens provide the fatty acid ALA, which the body converts into DHA and EPA. There are differing viewpoints on whether or not a solely plant-based diet can provide enough ALA to convert into adequate amounts of DHA and EPA. One concern is for people who are unable to convert enough ALA into sufficient amounts of fatty acids, due to biological reasons. People who suspect they may have problems converting ALA into DHA and EPA should seek professional advice.

It’s recommended that adults with no history of heart disease eat two servings of Omega-3 rich fish each week, while adults with coronary heart disease should take 1 gram of EPA and DHA daily. It is suggested that people with high cholesterol consume 2-4 grams of EPA and DHA daily.  While it’s vital to receive enough fatty acids for development, ingesting too much has consequences as well. Omega-3 thins the blood, so careful attention should be taken when combining with other blood thinning medication and supplements.

A healthy lifestyle through exercise and healthy eating is a natural, easy way to ensure all fatty acids needed by the body are being received. If mental health issues still occur after changes in diet and lifestyle, consult a doctor about further treatment options.

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