Omega-3 Fatty Acid Deficiency: Mood Disorders

The omega-3 fatty acid alpha linolenic acid (ALA, C18:3 (n-3)) is an essential fatty acid required by human for health. Alpha linolenic acid is metabolised to a number of hormone like substances called eicosanoids, and these have a wide range of effects on cell function. A deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids will eventually lead to death, but along this path there lies a number of chronic diseases and disorders that are attributable to an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency. A number of mood disorders including anxiety and depression may be caused by a deficiency of essential fatty acids. For example, in one study researchers investigated the effects of an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency in mice. The researchers isolated two groups of mice to induce stress and then monitored their behaviour. Mice that were deficient in omega-3 fatty acids were more likely to show anxious behaviour when isolated, when compared to mice that were not deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, suggesting the deficiency enhanced the susceptibility of the mice to stress.

flaxseeds anxiety depression mood

One of the best dietary source of alpha linolenic acid is flaxseeds. However, green leafy vegetables also contain reasonable amounts of alpha linolenic acid. Omega-3 fatty acid needs of humans can also be supplied by eating fish, which contains both eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, C20:5 (n-3)) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6 (n-3)).

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Harauma, A., and Moriguchi, T. 2011. Dietary n‐3 Fatty Acid Deficiency in Mice Enhances Anxiety Induced by Chronic Mild Stress. Lipids. 46(5): 409-416

About Robert Barrington

Robert Barrington is a writer, nutritionist, lecturer and philosopher.
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