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Eat fish and be happy!


Did you know that including more fish in your diet could ward off the blues? Oily fish such as mackerel, trout, herring and salmon contain the healthy poly-unsaturated fat, Omega 3, which has been shown to stabilise mood and combat depression. But does it truly make you feel better? Nutritionist Dominique Helberg assesses the benefits



Countries that chew their way through a lot of fish bones, such as Iceland and Japan, have a lower prevalence of depression to show for it. There is also an encouraging correlation between frequent seafood consumption and lower levels of post-natal depression, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and even seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Proof that fish can really stop you being SAD. More specifically, depressed patients have been shown to have low levels of the long chain Omega 3's, EPA and DHA, which are only found in seafood sources.

Scientists are still battling it out, test tubes held aloft, as to whether supplementation with Omega 3 really can improve your mood. The minefield of statistics that are clinical trials, have thrown up conflicting results. Some studies show no benefit or a very minimal one. Others show hugely positive results. One study found over two thirds of participants felt a 50% reduction in their depressive symptoms after three months of EPA supplementation, the long chain Omega 3. The positive results are the ones this nutrition researcher optimistically chooses to side with. Overall the research does point towards beneficial effects, although minimal, these discrepancies can be explained by studies using different dosages, different forms of Omega 3 and different subjects. The largest improvement is seen when using EPA supplements on recovering depressed patients.

It is not yet known exactly how Omega-3 stabilises mood but one theory is the lubrication of the mind. High levels of the long-chain Omega 3's are found in cell membranes, especially in the brain. Their structure improves the fluidity of the membrane. This allows the enzymes, receptors, transporters and a crowd of other mini messengers to slide easily through the membrane, delivering their parcels of molecular messages more efficiently. Low levels of Omega 3 causes the cell membrane to become stiff, and like closing the door on the postman, the parcels that inform vital cell processes aren’t delivered. Possibly increasing the risk of developing depression.

Omega 3 may also combat the fatigue and tension, that weighs heavily on the depressed person, through their anti-inflammatory action. Both Omega 3 and Omega 6 are found in cell membranes. Omega 6 tends to produce molecules that lead to inflammation where as Omega 3 tends to produce anti-inflammatory molecules. Both are ushered down the metabolic pathway by the same enzymes. If there is a higher concentration of Omega 3, the enzymes will be so preoccupied showing them to their seats that Omega 6 and its inflammatory entourage won't even be seated before the show starts. This is not to say that Omega 6 is an unwanted patron. The molecules it produces have an important purpose. But the modern diet tends to include a surplus of foods that contain Omega 6, upsetting the ideal balance and leading to an 'inflamed state'. 

We are still waiting on an official UK recommended daily allowance for Omega 3. This can be chalked down to the difficulties in measuring Omega 3 deficiency. Sadly this may be undermining Omega 3's importance as surveys show nine in ten Britons aren't even consuming the minimum to maintain a healthy heart (estimated at around 500mg/day), let alone to support their immune system, optimal brain function and mental well-being (1000mg/day).

The British Dietetic Association does, however, recommend that everyone should aim to eat at least two portions of fish a week. One of which should be oily. The best way to acquire nutrients is always through your food. But if picking through fish bones isn't your idea of a pleasant meal then supplementation is the next best option. Be wary of which brand you choose as not all are created equal. Read the fine print and make sure to choose one that does contain the long-chain Omega 3 fats, DHA and EPA. Do consult your GP first if you have a blood disorder or are taking blood thinning medication as high doses of Omega 3 can increase the risk of bleeding.

Dr Alex Richardson, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, summarises Omega 3's importance perfectly. "Consuming more of the vital Omega 3 fats found in fish and seafood is probably the single most important dietary change that most people could make to improve their health."

Eat fish and be happy!

Omega 3 content per average portion (6oz)
Wild Salmon: 3.2 g
Pacific and Jack mackerel: 3.2 g
Pacific sardine: 2.8 g
Atlantic herring: 2.4 g
Atlantic mackerel: 2.0 g
Rainbow trout: 2.0 g

Baked mackerel with mustard
Whole mackerel being commonly available, affordable and a relatively high Omega 3 content is one of the most economical fish to include in your diet. Ask your fishmonger to gut the whole fish for you. Stuff the slit with a dab of butter, a tablespoon of wholegrain mustard and bake at 180 degrees celsius for 20-30mins. Serve with baked vegetables or a salad and enjoy being healthier and happier.


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