Essential fatty acids and mental health
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) (omega 3 and 6 fatty acids) are necessary for normal development and function of the brain.
- Omega 3 fatty acids and their metabolites have roles in regulating inflammation, neuroinflammation, and neurotransmission (Larrieu, & Layé, 2018).
Essential fatty acids and addiction
EFAs and alcohol addiction
- Addictive behaviours are associated with neuroinflammation.
- Studies show that alcohol-induced neuronal inflammation and damage can be offset by essential fatty acids (Barve et al., 2017).
- Fish oil has been shown to alleviate withdrawal symptoms (Shi et al., 2019).
- Omega 3 fatty acid intake supports healthy brain function while recovering from chronic alcohol use (Smith, 2021).
Omega 3 fatty acids and opioid withdrawal
- Low omega 3 fatty acid status has been linked to decreased levels of dopamine. (“These Are the 4 Best Vitamins for Opiate Withdrawal.”)
- Supplementation with omega 3 fatty acids may help to reduce drug-seeking behaviours during opioid maintenance and withdrawal as a result of the protective role they may play in mitigating composition of the gut microbiome (Hakimian et al., 2019).
- Preclinical data suggests that a diet enriched with omega 3 fatty acids may also help to alleviate anxiety and associated behaviours that accompany withdrawal (Hakimian et al., 2019).
Omega 3 fatty acids and opiod relapse prevention
- Supplementation with omega 3 fatty acids may help to facilitate a positive shift in the composition of the gut microbiome.
- This may help to reduce anxiety, which is often a contributing factor in relapse (Hakimian et al., 2019).
Reasons for EFA deficiencies
- Inadequate dietary intake
- Poor absorption
- Deficiencies of nutrients required for EFA metabolism
- Issues with metabolism that cause decreased incorporation of, or increased removal of, fatty acids from cell membranes
Top EPA and DHA (omega 3) food sources by serving size
- herring, pacific
- salmon, chinook
- sardines, pacific
- salmon, atlantic
- oysters, pacific
Comprehensive food list:
Table 4. Food Sources of EPA (20:5n-3) and DHA (22:6n-3) (Office of Dietary Supplements, n.d.)
Top α-Linolenic Acid (omega 3) food sources by serving size
- flax seed oil
- chia seeds
- flax seeds ground
Comprehensive food list:
Table 3. Food Sources of α-Linolenic Acid (18:3n-3) (Office of Dietary Supplements, n.d.)
Top Linoleic Acid (omega-6) sources by serving size
- safflower oil
- sunflower seeds
- pine nuts
- sunflower oil
Comprehensive food list: Table 2. Food Sources of Linoleic Acid (18:2n-6)
(Office of Dietary Supplements, n.d.)
Commonly suggested amounts for dietary fatty acid consumption:
- cold water fish – 2 to 3 times a week, or
- flaxseed oil – 2 to 6 tbsp daily, or
- ground flax seed – 2 tbsp daily
Flaxseed oil may have negative effects in about 3% people, including: hypomania, mania, behaviour changes. (Prousky, 2015)
Referenced Dietary Intakes
Adequate Intakes for Alpha linolenic acid (Omega 3) (g/day) (Institute of Medicine, 2002)
Adolescents (14–18 years): 1.6 (M) 1.1 (F)
Adults (19 years and older): 1.6 (M) 1.1 (F)
Recommendations for long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (mg/day) (European Food Safety Authority, 2009)
Adults: 250 mg/day (M+F)
Supplementing omega 3 fatty acids
- Supplementation of omega 3 fatty acids seems beneficial for addressing depression (Bruinsma & Taren, 2000).
- Amounts of omega 3 fatty acids used in practice and research range from 1–4 g/day of combined EPA and DHA, in divided doses.
- Fish oil and E-EPA are generally well tolerated, but may cause gastrointestinal side effects in some individuals (Gaby)
- Long-term supplementation with EPA and DHA should be accompanied by a vitamin E supplement (Gaby), as polyunsaturated fatty acids increase vitamin E requirements in the body.
SAFETY, SIDE EFFECTS
- Common side effects of high dose EPA and DHA supplementation include heartburn, nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, diarrhea, headache, and odoriferous sweat
- The European Food Safety Authority considers long-term consumption of EPA and DHA supplements at combined doses of up to about 5 g/day appears to be safe.
- The FDA recommends not exceeding 3 g/day EPA and DHA combined, with up to 2 g/day from dietary supplements (Office of Dietary Supplements, n.d.).
OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS AND MEDICATIONS
- Use caution when supplementing omega 3 fatty acids while taking blood-thinning medications, or blood-sugar issues (Essential fatty acids, 2014).
Barve, S., Chen, S.-Y., Kirpich, I., Watson, W. H., & McClain, C. (2017). Development, Prevention, and Treatment of Alcohol-Induced Organ Injury: The Role of Nutrition. Alcohol Research : Current Reviews, 38(2), 289–302. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513692/
Bruinsma, K. A., & Taren, D. L. (2000). Dieting, Essential Fatty Acid Intake, and Depression. Nutrition Reviews, 58(4), 98–108. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2000.tb07539.x
Essential Fatty Acids. (2014, April 28). Linus Pauling Institute. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/essential-fatty-acids
European Food Safety Authority. Labelling reference intake values for n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. (2009, July 10). https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/1176
Institute of Medicine. (2002). Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. https://doi.org/10.17226/10490
Gaby, A. R. (2011). Nutritional Medicine (VitalBook file).
Larrieu, T., & Layé, S. (2018). Food for Mood: Relevance of Nutritional Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Depression and Anxiety. Frontiers in Physiology, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2018.01047
Hakimian, J. K., Dong, T. S., Barahona, J. A., Lagishetty, V., Tiwari, S., Azani, D., Barrera, M., Lee, S., Severino, A. L., Mittal, N., Cahill, C. M., Jacobs, J. P., & Walwyn, W. M. (2019). Dietary Supplementation with Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids Reduces Opioid-Seeking Behaviors and Alters the Gut Microbiome. Nutrients, 11(8), E1900. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081900
Office of Dietary Supplements—Omega-3 Fatty Acids. (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2020, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
Prousky J, (2015) Anxiety: Orthomolecular diagnosis and treatment, Kindle Edition. CCNM Press.
Shi, Z., Xie, Y., Ren, H., He, B., Wang, M., Wan, J.-B., Yuan, T.-F., Yao, X., & Su, H. (2019). Fish oil treatment reduces chronic alcohol exposure induced synaptic changes. Addiction Biology, 24(4), 577–589. https://doi.org/10.1111/adb.12623
Smith, J. (2021, October 4). Best Vitamin And Mineral Supplements For Alcohol Detox. Addiction Resource. https://www.addictionresource.net/treatment/detox/alcohol/nutrition/supplements/