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Omega-3s, Diabetes, and Depression

Have you ever just felt blah? You know...not motivated, driven, or inspired for work or activities that you usually love? Did you know that changes in your diet could impact brain function, signs of aging, and lower your risk of depression? Omega-3s could be just what the dietitian ordered!

The diabetes and depression connection

People with diabetes have a much higher rate of depression than the general population. In fact, about one in four adults with diabetes will experience depressive symptoms. Cases of depression are also twice as common in women in comparison to men. With about 10-15% of people with diabetes being formally diagnosed with depressive disorder, it’s critical to utilize ways to improve or manage symptoms.3,4 The key to life is balance. For those living with diabetes, steady blood sugars come by successfully managing diet, exercise, medication, and stress reduction (meditation, etc.). During mealtime, it’s important to focus on balancing carbohydrates, protein, and fat intake. Omega-3 consumption is an excellent way to incorporate healthy heart fats while improving both your cardiovascular and neurological health.

Omega-3 brain-boosting mood enhancers

While it may not be a magic remedy, omega-3 fatty acids do have some significant star power. In fact, omega-3s help your brain cells to function properly. Since the brain is made up of nearly 60% fat, omega-3s definitely have their work cut out for them. Although omega-3s are most commonly associated with maintaining heart health, they have now branched out to the realm of brain function.

Omega-3s are essential for normal and healthy brain function. Growing evidence indicates that omega-3s, which are renowned as one of the “healthy fats,” may also play an integral role in improving brain function and mood. Could omega-3s be a viable solution in helping to improve mood disorders?

Let’s take a closer look. Omega-3’s support brain plasticity. Neuroplasticity is the process of experiences reorganizing neural pathways in the brain and changing neural connections. Neuroplasticity changes as we grow, learn, and age. For example, when you laugh at a new type of humor, you didn’t find funny before, your brain is reorganizing!15

Is it a miracle cure for the doldrums?

Omega-3s can be part of the solution to beating the blues! Start fueling with these rejuvenating heart-healthy fats to put the pep back in your step. Don’t know where to start? Eat fish with omega-3 fatty acids 2-3 times a week! Add some walnuts to your oatmeal. Don’t forget to sprinkle chia seeds or ground-up flaxseeds onto your Greek yogurt.

Considering a fish oil supplement? Have a dietitian evaluate your needs. Take the step towards improved brain function and heart-healthy bliss.

Not all Omega-3s are created equal

Did you know there were different kinds of omega-3s? In fact, there are three main types: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).5,6 ALA converts into small amounts of EPA and DHA, the types of omega-3s responsible for improved brain function and heart health.14 ALA food sources include some plant oils such as flaxseed and canola, as well as chia seeds and walnuts. EPA and DHA food sources include fish and fish oils as well as fortified foods such as eggs, milk, and yogurt.2,4,5

  • ALA recommendations are 1.6 grams per day (1600 milligrams) for men and 1.1 grams per day (1,100 milligrams) for women.7
  • Per the World Health Organization (WHO), the general guidelines for EPA and DHA are a combined 200 to 500 milligrams.5,8
  • The average American consumes only 23-57% of the EPA, and DHA levels recommended for optimal health.9

So, boosting these foods is a must for most Americans. Use the suggestions below to get your recommended amounts!

Plant Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for a 3-Tablespoon Serving5

  • Chia seeds: ALA = 7582mg | DHA = 0mg | EPA = 0mg
  • Walnuts, chopped: ALA = 2000mg | DHA = 0mg | EPA = 0mg
  • Flax seeds, ground: ALA = 4791mg | DHA = 0mg | EPA = 0mg

Animal Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for a 3-ounce Serving5

  • Salmon, farmed: ALA = 0mg | DHA = 1238mg | EPA = 587mg
  • Salmon, wild: ALA = 0mg | DHA = 1215mg | EPA = 349mg
  • Anchovies, canned: ALA = 0mg | DHA = 1100mg | EPA = 650mg
  • Sardines: ALA = 817mg | DHA = 433mg | EPA = 402mg
  • Shrimp: ALA = 0mg | DHA = 120mg | EPA = 115mg
  • Light tuna, canned in water: ALA = 2mg | DHA = 167mg | EPA = 24mg

Light at the end of the tunnel

Research shows that diets high in omega-3s can decrease rates of mood disorders outcomes. In one study (meta-analysis of 9 studies and 16,719 subjects), people who followed the Mediterranean Diet, which recommends 2-3 servings of fish per week, were 30% less likely than their peers to have depression.11 Furthermore, another study (meta-analysis of 26 studies, 150,278 subjects) revealed that people who regularly ate fish were 20% less likely than their peers to have depression.12 Finally, blood levels of EPA and DHA are lower in people with major depression.13

If you are struggling with depression, know that you are not alone. It’s essential to reach out for help if you are in need. While omega-3s may not be able to eliminate feelings of depression, it can definitely aid in improving symptom management. Work with a registered dietitian nutritionist and let food be part of the solution.

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