Could omega-3 fats, the kind most often found in fish oil, help reduce stress?
A new study from Ohio State University sought to answer that question, by looking at how omega-3 fats could help decrease anxiety among university students.
Inflammation and Anxiety Reduced by Omega-3 Fats
Consuming more fish oil showed a marked reduction both in inflammation and, surprisingly, in anxiety among the healthy young people in the study.
The findings suggest that if young participants can get such improvements from specific dietary supplements, then the elderly and people at high risk for certain diseases might benefit even more.
Omega-3 Study on Healthy Medical Students
The findings by a team of researchers at Ohio State University were just published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have long been considered as positive aspects of a healthy 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.
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Psychological stress has repeatedly been shown to increase cytokine production so the researchers wondered if increasing omega-3 might mitigate that process, reducing inflammation.
Half the students received omega-3 supplements while the other half was given placebo pills.
Omega-3 Fats from Fish Oil Used in Study
“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.
The psychological surveys clearly showed an important change in anxiety among the students: Those receiving the omega-3 showed a 20 percent reduction in anxiety compared to the placebo group.
An analysis of the of the blood samples from the medical students showed similar important results.
“We took measurements of the cytokines in the blood serum, as well as measured the productivity of cells that produced two important cytokines, interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFa),” said Ron Glaser, professor of molecular virology, immunology & medical genetics and director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research.
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“We saw a 14 percent reduction in the amounts of IL-6 among the students receiving the omega-3.” Since the cytokines foster inflammation, “anything we can do to reduce cytokines is a big plus in dealing with the overall health of people at risk for many diseases,” he said.
While inflammation is a natural immune response that helps the body heal, it also can play a harmful role in a host of diseases ranging from arthritis to heart disease to cancer.
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Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. Published Online July 19, 2011.
“Omega-3 Supplementation Lowers Inflammation and Anxiety in Medical Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, Martha A. Belury, Rebecca Andridge, William B. Malarkey, and Ronald Glaser
Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, Ohio State University College of Medicine, USA, Department of Psychiatry, Ohio State University College of Medicine, USA, Department of Human Nutrition, Ohio State University, Division of Biostatistics, College of Public Health, Ohio State University, Department of Internal Medicine, Ohio State University College of Medicine, USA, Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology, and Medical Genetics, Ohio State University College of Medicine, USA
Source: Ohio State University