Omega-3s found to help those suffering from PTSD

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health condition that often occurs after a person witnessed or experienced a terrifying event. People with PTSD often experience psychophysiological symptoms such as a pounding heart. Researchers from Japan suggest that this particular symptom may be improved by taking fish oil supplements and eating more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

For their study, the Japanese researchers aimed to determine whether omega-3 fatty acids have a beneficial effect on improving psychophysiological symptoms of PTSD, including an increased heart rate. In conducting their study, they recruited a total of 83 accident survivors. They divided these participants into two groups: a treatment group and a control group. Within 10 days of the accidental injury, they gave the treatment group fish oil supplements containing 1,470 milligrams (mg) docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and 147 mg eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA and EPA are two types of omega-3s almost exclusively found in fatty fish and fish oil. On the other hand, the control group received a placebo.

After three months of supplementation, the participants performed script-driven imagery of their traumatic experience. At the same time, the researchers monitored their heart rate and skin conductance.

Based on their analysis, the researchers reported that heart rate during both rest and script-driven imagery was substantially lower in those who took omega-3s than those who took the placebo. From these findings, they concluded that supplementation of omega-3s might help prevent psychophysiological symptoms of PTSD. The findings of the study were published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. (Related: How exactly does fish oil help the heart? It counteracts the effects of mental stress.)

Omega-3 fatty acids and mental health

Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are polyunsaturated fats known to be responsible for most of the brain and mental health benefits of fish oil, a widely known over-the-counter supplement extracted from fatty fish such as anchovies, mackerel, salmon, and sardines. These two omega-3s are believed to have the most potential to benefit people with mental health conditions.

Various studies have demonstrated different ways of how omega-3s improve mental health conditions, such as depression. For one, omega-3s can easily go through the brain cell membrane and interact with mood-related molecules inside the brain. In addition, omega-3s possess anti-inflammatory properties that may help fight depression. In bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, research has shown that omega-3s may be most beneficial for the depressed phase instead of the manic phase of this disorder. Many studies have also shown that these fatty acids have potential in the treatment or prevention of other psychiatric conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, borderline personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia.

Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA also play crucial roles for normal brain function and development throughout all stages of life, starting in the womb. Several studies have associated pregnant women’s fish intake or fish oil use with higher intelligence scores and better brain function for their children in early childhood.

In addition, these fatty acids are also important for maintaining normal brain function throughout life. Having enough amounts of omega-3s in the cell membranes of brain cells help maintain cell membrane health and facilitate communication between brain cells. Some studies have shown that low levels of DHA may lead to learning and memory impairments. Others have associated lower DHA levels in the blood with smaller brain size, which is a sign of accelerated brain aging.

Research shows that taking 1,000 mg to 2,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil every day may be helpful. However, it’s best to talk to a health professional first before taking them because fish oil supplements can affect blood clotting.

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