We've known for a few years that people who eat a diet rich in fish
are less likely to be depressed.
But new research shows that one nutrient in fish might actually be
more effective in halting symptoms of depression than traditional
antidepressants. The nutrient is an omega-3 fatty acid called EPA.
British scientists recently gave a group of patients with stubborn
depression a daily dose of EPA. After three months, over two thirds of
the group reported a 50 percent reduction in their symptoms-particularly
feelings of sadness and pessimism, inability to work, sleeplessness and
"This is one of the largest potential associations of a nutrient
with depression," says Joseph Hibbeln, M.D., a psychiatrist at the
National Institutes of Health, who has long studied the diet-depression
link. "The important issue in this study is that the omega-3 worked above
and beyond the antidepressants."
There's a growing body of research that suggests that seafood can
ward off a whole host of health problems. Studies have shown that
countries with diets rich in fish have lower rates of depression, bipolar
disorder, postpartum depression and suicide.
Healthy brains and nerve cells depend on omega-3s because the
nervous system is made mostly of fat. The fats that you eat literally
determine the composition of your brain cells.
As a result, consuming sufficient unsaturated omega-3 fats
influences the efficiency of many actions of the brain. Last year, the
Food and Drug Administration approved the addition of a different
omega-3, called DHA, to baby formula after studies showed it to be
important for developing brains and eyes.
Omega-3s are even linked to healthy hearts and circulatory systems.
Scientists think this could help explain why heart disease and depression
often occur together.
The reason fish are so important is because they are the best
source of omega-3s, also known as "essential" fatty acids. Doctors call
this class of fish fat essential because, unlike many nutrients, our
bodies cannot produce it. We can only get it from very specific parts of
But despite many tantalizing clues, scientists aren't sure yet how
essential fatty acids interact in the brain with each other, other
nutrients and even medications. It's too early for doctors to prescribe
fish as a sure-fire treatment for depression, but Hibbeln says it can't
hurt to make sure you've got some fish in your diet. He believes the
American Heart Association's guidelines are on target for the brain as
well as the body: eat seafood two to three times a week for overall
Omega-3s can be found in all seafood, not just cold-water fish,
which scientists once believed. Whether from fresh or salt water, all
fish contain omega-3s, which originally come from the algae and seaweed
that fish eat.
So eat your seafood, including shrimp, crabs and oysters. If that's
not to your taste, walnuts, flaxseed and some wild plants and game are
also good sources.