Fishing for happiness

Go ahead and order salmon for dinner – it just might make you happier.

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, seem to affect areas of the brain linked to mood and behavior according to a study at the University of Pittsburgh.

The findings were presented by Dr. Sarah M. Conklin of the University of Pittsburgh, at the American Psychosomatic Society’s Annual Meeting, held in Budapest, Hungary.

The researchers had previously found that people with lower blood levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids were more likely to have a negative outlook and to be more impulsive, while those with higher blood levels were more agreeable and less likely to report mild or moderate symptoms of depression.

In this recent study, Conklin and her colleagues wanted to investigate whether the volume of gray matter in the brain, particularly the regions linked with mood and emotion regulation, was proportional to the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.

For the study, they interviewed 55 healthy adults for their average intake of omega-3 fatty acids and then determined gray matter volume by using MRI brain scans.

The researchers found that participants who had consumed larger amounts of omega-3 reported larger volumes of gray matter in the parts of the brain associated with emotional arousal and regulation.

While the study suggested that omega-3s may promote structural improvement in areas of the brain related to mood and emotion regulation – the same areas where grey matter is reduced in people who have mood disorders such as major depressive disorder – more research is needed to determine whether fish consumption actually causes changes in the brain, researchers noted.

Good fats
Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, are considered “good fats.” There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

These “good fats” are found in fatty fish including salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, halibut, as well as ground flaxseed, flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, walnuts, leafy greens, and tofu.

Health benefits of Omega-3
The cardiovascular benefit of omega-3 fatty acids has been long known. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

A number of prior studies have also linked low levels of omega-3 to significant clinical conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorders.

And in children, increasing the fatty acid content in their diet can boost their mental abilities, according to British researchers. In the UK study, 4 overweight children given capsules containing omega-3 and omega-6 experienced three year’s worth in just three months. (Omega-6 is found in cereals, whole-grain bread, most vegetable oils, eggs and poultry.)