According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 300 million people live with depression worldwide.
One in five people has suffered or will suffer from depression in their lifetime. The risk of suicide is particularly high since between 10% to 20% of patients take action.
Depressions, therefore, represent not only a major public health problem but also a huge socio-economic issue when we know that depression is the leading cause of disability in the world.
Since the 1980s, the recommended treatments for depression have been antidepressants. Although useful in severe depression and people at high risk of suicide, in the majority of other cases they have shown limited effectiveness in resolving depressive episodes. Indeed, suffice it to note that the number of depressed people has increased alongside the prescription of antidepressants.
Faced with this observation, researchers have taken an interest in other fields to treat depression, in particular that of psycho-nutrition, which studies how food can influence our mental state. Indeed, we have known for many years now that what we eat has a direct impact on the structure and functioning of the brain.
One of the most studied nutrients for solving and preventing depression is omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. More specifically, 368 meta-analyses have looked at the effectiveness of omega 3 on health.
Omega 3: essential fatty acids for our brain
To understand the impact of omega 3 on our brain, it is important to know that it is made up of 60% fat, mainly phospholipids forming the membranes of the 100 billion cells in our brain, but also cholesterol (the brain is the largest reservoir of cholesterol in the body) and omega 3 such as mainly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and to a lesser extent (only 1%) eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Omega 3s are essential to ensure the proper functioning of our brains. Indeed, they make it possible to ensure good electrical conduction and neurotransmission of the information permanently exchanged between each of the brain cells and those of our body, in particular through the 0.15 quadrillion synapses (contact region between two neurons, or between a neuron and another body cell) present in our brain.
In addition, you should know that omega 3s are essential nutrients; that is to say that they can only be provided by food because our body is unable to manufacture the precursor and main omega 3 of our body which is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Indeed, it is from the latter that the body can synthesize the other two existing omega 3s, EPA and DHA.
Finally, it should be noted that the majority of the Western population is deficient in omega 3 because they do not consume enough foods containing them: oil and flax seeds, walnut oil, rapeseed oil, fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, and anchovies.
A deficiency in omega 3 will scramble and slow down the communication of our neurons, which can cause or contribute to abnormal brain functioning and mental disorders (such as depression) as demonstrated by numerous studies on the subject.
Omega 3 and depression
A deficiency in omega 3 is associated with the onset of depression. All studies agree that the less you consume omega 3, the higher the risk of having depression. There is indeed an inversely proportional relationship between these two parameters (see figure 1).
Omega 3s have proven their effectiveness in the treatment of depression, especially in combination with antidepressants and with an effectiveness proportional to the dose of EPA (although it is the minority omega 3 in our brain).
In addition, omega 3s also play an important role in the prevention of depression because they improve the membrane fluidity of brain cells, they reduce inflammation, and they improve the concentration of serotonin (neurotransmitter of peace and quiet) in our synapses.
Omega 3s are, therefore, powerful allies in the fight against and prevention of depression. They are effective and particularly recommended for any depressed patient at doses of EPA greater than 1g per day and doses of DHA greater than 400mg per day. Favour formulas with EPA and DHA containing more than 50% EPA.
By Dr Aurélien Núñez
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Aurélien Nuñez is a Functional and micronutritional Medical Doctor, graduated from the Favaloro University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Specialised in Micronutrition, Food, Prevention and Health (MAPS) from the Paris Descartes University. He is working at Hotel Capela Das Artes in a project named Smart Treatments, where with his colleague, Silvestre Gonzalez, an Ayurveda-oriented Medical Doctor, and a team of therapists, are offering consultations, body therapies, retreats, yoga, meditation classes and workshops.