fish oil supplements

Today’s post is sponsored by Carlson Nutritional Supplements, but the thoughts and opinions in this post are my own.

Those who’ve worked with me know that I’m pretty conservative when it comes to recommending supplements. Too often the public is led to believe that good nutrition means lots of pills and powders, and in most cases, the research isn’t there to support this. However, one supplement that studies do show may be helpful for improving anxiety and depression is fish oil. 

Fish oil, a type of omega-3 fatty acids, comes in a variety of forms. How do you choose? There are actually two forms of omega-3s, long chain and short chain. Long chain Omega-3s are what’s found in fish oil and contains the components EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). It’s these components of fish oil that actually provide the benefit. For people who don’t eat fish, there are algae supplements, however they contain DHA, but little to no EPA. 

Short chain Omega-3s, or ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), are in plant foods including walnuts, flax seed, chia seed, canola oil and soybeans. In order to have the benefit of fish oil, the body has to convert ALA to DHA and EPA, and this happens very inefficiently. What’s so interesting, is that men convert less than 10% of ALA to EPA and DHA, while women convert almost double that amount. This is related to women having more estrogen. In either case, it takes a lot of ALA to create the needed EPA and DHA.

DHA is important for the healthy function and structure of the brain, and high levels of EPA in the blood have been shown to reduce brain inflammation. One way fish oil may help depression, is that it increases white matter in the brain. White matter is made up of covered nerve fibers (myelinated) that connect brain cells, and can impact depression.

It’s the EPA and DHA in fish oil that have been shown to be helpful for anxiety and depression. The tricky part is making sure you’re taking the right amount. The front of the bottle is where you usually find the total amount of fish oil in the product. However, that’s different than the amount of EPA and DHA it contains. Now turn the bottle around, and look on the back. This is where you’ll find the amount of EPA and DHA. For both anxiety and depression, you want more EPA than DHA.  For depression, the research points to the most benefit coming from a ratio of about 60% EPA to DHA. Then you need around 1000 mg/day of EPA. For anxiety, studies show that even more EPA is needed, with benefits shown at around 2000 mg/day, and a ratio less than 60% of EPA to DHA. 

Whether you take fish oil or any other supplements, it’s always important to check with your doctor or the pharmacist to make sure there are no interactions with any of your medications. As a dietitian, I always recommend the benefits of improving what, when, and how you eat first. But, when the research supports it, some supplements can be helpful. If it makes sense for you, then adding the right amount of fish oil to your routine could be a helpful addition in improving how you feel.

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  1. Chere Ann Bork on August 21, 2019 at 6:54 pm

    thanks for the specifics about amounts of EPA and DHA to take and yes to food first but sometimes YOU just gotta have a supplement! I myself could never eat enough EPA and DHA and take fish oil supplements!

  2. on April 20, 2020 at 4:46 am

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    a few of the articles I realized it’s new to me.
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    it and checking back frequently!

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Kim Kulp, RD

Gut Health Nutrition Expert

I am a registered dietitian that specializes in gut nutrition to improve digestive and mental health. I help my clients harness the power of nutrition to support their bodies delicate ecosystem, so they can feel better. I have seen hundreds of lives transformed through the power of nutrition. I want to help you harness the gut health connection in your life so you can get “back to good!”

I would love to hear from you:

Phone 415-246-3876