Omega-3 reduces anxiety and inflammation in healthy students

Friday, 15 July, 2011


Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have long been considered as positive additives to the diet. Earlier research suggested that the compounds might play a role in reducing the level of cytokines in the body - compounds that promote inflammation and perhaps even reduce depression.

Psychological stress has repeatedly been shown to increase cytokine production so researchers from Ohio State University wondered if increasing omega-3 might mitigate that process, reducing inflammation.

To test their theory, they turned to a familiar group of research subjects - medical students. Some of the earliest work these scientists did showed that stress from important medical school tests lowered students’ immune status.

The team assembled a field of 68 first- and second-year medical students who volunteered for the clinical trial. The students were randomly divided into six groups, all of which were interviewed six times during the study. At each visit, blood samples were drawn from the students who also completed a battery of psychological surveys intended to gauge their levels of stress, anxiety or depression. The students also completed questionnaires about their diets during the previous weeks.

Half the students received omega-3 supplements while the other half were given placebo pills.

“The supplement was probably about four or five times the amount of fish oil you’d get from a daily serving of salmon, for example,” explained Martha Belury, professor of human nutrition and co-author in the study.

But the psychological surveys clearly showed an important change in anxiety among the students: those receiving the omega-3 showed a 20% reduction in anxiety compared to the placebo group.

An analysis of the of the blood samples from the medical students showed similar important results.

While the study showed the positive impact omega-3 supplements can play in reducing both anxiety and inflammation, the researchers aren’t willing to recommend that the public start adding them to the daily diet. Some of the researchers, however, acknowledged that they take omega-3 supplements.

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