- A meta-analysis showed that omega-3 helped improve impulsive behavior and emotional dysregulation in BPD.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are typically found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, cod, and other seafood.
- The meta-analysis indicated that dietary changes with little risk might help reduce BPD symptoms.
As a former seven-year vegetarian, I know the passion with which people commit to eating a diet free from meat, fish, and animal suffering, and it is a hugely laudable lifestyle choice. However, the unfortunate reality is that humans are omnivores and are likely to suffer dietary deficiencies if they are vegetarian or vegan. However, the popular trend for vegan or vegetarian eating might not be a good idea for people with borderline personality disorder.
A meta-analysis by Karaszewska et al. (2021) published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry showed the benefits of fish oil for reducing its symptoms.1 A meta-analysis is a gold-standard method used by scientists to compile published evidence, review it, and mathematically calculate the average effects of X on Y, or the average association between X and Y. This means that it presents powerful evidence of the cause-and-effect of omega-3 fatty acids in reducing borderline personality disorder symptoms.
One former vegan wrote a powerful account of her experiences of suffering health problems to the extent that she had to start eating meat and fish to save her health,2 and it is unknown how many others have suffered mental health symptoms worsened by dietary deficiencies. It is worth considering the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, mainly found in fish and seafood. Cutting out these essentials might be harmful to people with certain mental disorders.
Karaszewska et al. (2021) reviewed only those studies which were randomised-controlled trials, which means that they reviewed experiments that allow scientists to conclude cause and effects. Across different randomised-controlled trials, the researchers found that consuming omega-3 fatty acids significantly decreased the symptoms of borderline personality disorder. That included impulsive behaviour and emotional dysregulation.
Although meat and fish-free diets can be helpful, that depends on whether you compare them with people eating unhealthy processed meats and trans-fats rather than people eating a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and unprocessed meat with fish. Omega-3 fatty acids are typically found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and, to a lesser extent, less oily fish such as cod and other seafood. Omega-3-rich fish is commonly eaten by communities that live close to the sea or ocean, and it has become more popular because people believe that omega-3 fatty acids are helpful to mental health. However, evidence about the precise effects on borderline personality disorder was unclear before the meta-analysis by Karaszewska et al. (2021). Their research is ground-breaking because it shows that dietary changes which people can try at home with little risk can help reduce symptoms.
If you have borderline personality disorder, it is worth considering adding omega-3-rich foods to your diet. Beyond helping with borderline personality disorder, the National Institute of Health indicates that omega-3-rich foods could protect your cardiovascular health, and reduce the risk of some types of cancer, age-related macular degeneration, and Alzheimer’s disease.3
Not all types of omega-3 are equal in their health benefits, not least because they are not all as equally absorbable by the human body. If you eat oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, or cod, you will get types of omega-3 fatty acids called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).3 If you eat chia seeds, nuts, or other plant-based sources of omega-3, you will get a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It is important to eat ALA because the body needs to obtain it from your diet, but the body finds it difficult to convert it into DHA or EPA. This means that if you eat a vegan diet, your body risks being deficient in DHA or EPA. If you are a vegetarian who eats eggs, you might get some omega-3 fatty acids but still become deficient in essential quantities of DHA and EPA, depending on your diet.
No one knows the long-term effects of a vegan diet on borderline personality disorder. Therefore, if you have borderline personality disorder, it may be worth getting advice from your physician or health provider if you are concerned about the impact of your diet on your mental health. If you are vegan, ask for advice about getting all essential omega-3 fatty acids (including DHA and EPA), noting that taking supplements might not be advisable depending on other health factors.2 Also, be aware that supplements might offer harmfully high levels of DHA or EPA. Therefore it is best to get them from a diet where possible.
If you plan to increase your DHA and EPA, this does not mean that you should over-consume fish and seafood, but you may only need to add a few portions to your diet each week as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Fish and seafood have mercury and other toxins, which could be harmful if consumed in high amounts. Just because something is good for you does not mean it should be consumed in large doses. You should continue to eat lots of vegetables of different varieties, fruits, and other essential nutrients.
I continue to applaud vegans and vegetarians, having been one for so many years, and I consider the welfare of the poor animals and fish that are sacrificed for the human diet. It is a sad paradox that it is not always a diet that is helpful to human health. However, it is possible to make ethical choices when choosing what meat and fish sources to go for, ensuring that they are not depleting the oceans or perpetuating a cycle of animal suffering. If you or someone you care about has borderline personality disorder, it is worth considering eating more oily fish and seafood and seeds and nuts, which provide all essential omega-3 fatty acids.