Docosahexaenoic Acid and Stress Hormones

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6 (n-3)) is a fatty acid found in marine algae and fish oils. Once consumed by humans the DHA is interconverted into other long chain fatty acids including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, C20:5 (n-3)). These fatty acids have a range of physiological functions because they regulate cell metabolism. Both DHA and EPA are known to cause improvements in mood, perhaps because they are potent anti-inflammatory agents. However, DHA may also be able to reduce levels of circulating stress hormones, and this may also result in elevations in mood. For example, supplementation of 1.5 grams per day of DHA for 9 weeks resulted in a significant lowering of noradrenaline levels in healthy subjects exposed to stress. This suggests that DHA is able to regulate stress hormone release. As noradrenaline is used as a stress hormone within the nervous system, this suggests that DHA may positively affect nervous system activity during times of stress, perhaps by improving nerve conduction efficiency. 

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Sawazaki, S., Hamazaki, T., Yazawa, K. and Kobyashi, M. 1999. The effect of docosahexaenoic acid on plasma catecholamine concentrations and glucose tolerance during long-lasting psychological stress: a double-blind placebo-controlled study. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology. 45(5): 655-665

About Robert Barrington

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