Recent research links omega-3 fats with benefits for mood and behaviour

Previously on this site I have written about the relationship between the so-called ‘omega-3’ and their association with benefits for the brain including a reduced risk of depression and dementia. Recently, a study published in the journal Psychiatry Research examined the relationship between blood levels of omega-3 fats and certain measures of mood, personality and behaviour [1].

In this study, the researchers, based at the University of Pittsburgh in the USA, measured the blood levels of the three main types of omega-3 fats found in food: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA); eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA); and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found is plant foods such as nuts and seeds (especially flaxseed), while DHA and EPA are found most plentifully in ‘oily’ fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and sardine. Participants in the study completed questionnaires that assessed personality, as well as symptoms of depression and impulsiveness.

  • The study found that:Higher levels of EPA and DHA were associated with significantly reduced risk of symptoms of depression and neuroticism
  • Higher DHA levels were associated with higher scores of ‘agreeableness’.
  • Higher DHA and ALA levels were associated with lower scores of ‘impulsivity’

Studies of this nature can show ‘associations’ between things (in this case, blood omega-3 levels and improved mood/personality/behaviour) but do not prove that the one is actually causing the other.

However, as I have pointed out before, work has been done which suggests that omega-3 fats have important roles to play in the structure and function of the brain. With this in mind, there is I think ever-growing evidence to suggest that keeping up a good intake of omega-3 fats in the diet may help to maintain mental health and psychological ‘balance’.


1. Conklin SM, et al. Serum omega-3 fatty acids are associated with variation in mood, personality and behavior in hypercholesterolemic community volunteers. Psychiatry Research 2007 Mar 22; [Epub ahead of print]

5 Responses to Recent research links omega-3 fats with benefits for mood and behaviour

  1. Jon 2 April 2007 at 11:05 pm #

    Have you had a chance to read the recent Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin piece on omega 3 and depression (2007 Feb;45(2):9-12)? This argues that the evidence currently available suggests that fish oil supplements are of limited help in dealing with depression.

    The Drug and Therapeutics… article analysed RCTs – whereas this type of study of which behavioural traits EPA/DHA/ALA levels are associated with might be due to the amount of fish, nuts etc. people eat also being correlated with other factors (socioeconomic status is an obvious example).

  2. Dr John Briffa 3 April 2007 at 6:39 am #

    Hi Jon
    Haven’t read that DTB review so can’t comment on its findings at this time.
    I appreciate your comments about confounding factors – I think I acknowledged the epidemiological nature of this study though.

  3. Jon 3 April 2007 at 2:25 pm #

    Fair enough – you did make clear the limitations of the study. At least in terms of depression, though, I’m not convinced that there is “ever-growing evidence” for the usefullness of omega 3 fats – according to the DTB review, the evidence which is coming out of placebo-controlled trials is equivocal at to whether they’re useful for treating depression (though prevention may be a different matter).

  4. Kateryna 6 April 2007 at 2:37 pm #

    Dr. B:
    I can only speak from experience and my extensive reading, but fish oil supplementation along with a healthy low carb diet, have not only cured my long-suffering depression, they have cured my blood clotting problems, arthritis, headaches, digestive problems, and a host of other irritating conditions and improved all my blood lipids and stats. Before we dismiss anyting out of hand, this certainly is a painless, drug free alternative that should be tried. Why people will take drugs over supplementation is beyond me, but I see it every day with my co-workers and acquaintances. Perhaps they are too busy watching the “american idol clones” and not spending enough time researching their conditions and questioning their doctors. My own doctor pooh-poohed my taking a low magnesium supplementation by mumbling something about “electrolites” but was willing to place me on “blood pressure meds” or some other “full spectrum antibiotic” that I had never taken and may have been allergic to. So the mainstream attitude is definitely against all supplementation as being useless. Of course, “drugs” are perfect.

  5. OSV 10 April 2007 at 9:23 pm #

    This site has the above NIH on site and a number of others relating to fatty acid and mental illness:

    Jerry Cott Integrative Psychiatry

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