Fish Oil for Mental Health: Is a Deficiency Causing my Symptoms?

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Omega-3 fats consist of two important fatty acid’s that have widespread health implications, eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanenoic acid (DHA). Both are essential to brain function, with DHA comprising a staggering 60% of brain tissue. Without enough of these fats in your diet your brain cannot function properly, and unfortunately the standard American diet is very depleted in these fats. Specific to the brain, omega-3 fats build cell membranes, they reduce inflammation linked to just about all brain disorders, they stimulate new cell growth and communication in the brain, and they play a role in balancing your blood sugar which has implications for anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s, and others (Lands, 2012). Healthy cell membranes in the brain means more efficient communication between neurons, which means better brain function and a happier more stable mood (Haag, 2003).

Omega-3 (DHA & EPA) fats are obtained in the diet predominantly from wild caught fish and game, seaweed, algae, or pastured eggs. Certain nuts and seeds such as walnuts or flax seed contain a third form of omega-3 fatty acid called ALA, however this fat needs to be converted into DHA and EPA in the body in order to be utilized effectively by the brain. It is estimated that the body is only capable of converting roughly 10% of ALA into DHA or EPA, making ALA rich foods a poor source of usable omega-3s.

In today’s society, refined omega-6 fatty acids are the more common form of fat intake. Most of these omega-6’s are inflammatory oils such as soy, safflower, or corn oils driving up the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 intake. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 intake should be anywhere in the 1:1 to 4:1 range according to research, but unfortunately our society’s average is currently sitting at between 10:1 and 20:1 due to the common use of inflammatory oils in processed/fast foods (Simopoulos, 2008).

While both DHA and EPA play a role in health, it is becoming more evident that EPA plays more of a role in decreasing systemic inflammation, while DHA plays more of a role in maintaining brain health. If you’re looking for a Fish Oil supplement to support the general health of your brain, mood disorders, memory deficits, or ADHD, I recommend a supplement with a higher concentration of DHA to EPA. Dosages are very dependent on each person’s current intake of omega-3s as well as their state of health. Due to the blood thinning effects of fish oil, those currently on blood thinners for health reasons should consult a doctor or practitioner before supplementing. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recommends a healthy dietary intake of 3,500mg of omega-3s daily for a 2000 calorie diet (Hibbeln, Nieminen, Blasbalg, Riggs, & Lands, 2006). If you’re looking for a good product recommendation, reach out to us! Additionally, we have a link in our resources section for 10% off of our dispensary which offers top shelf professional grade fish oil supplements.

While supplementation is beneficial for those that struggle to get enough fish in their diet, my go to solution is to incorporate food forms of omega-3s. Canned, wild caught sustainable sardines are a convenient and easy way to get enough of these important fats into your diet. Simply pop open a can and dice them up into a salad, they taste line tuna! Don’t be scared! Usually, the bigger the fish, the more heavy metals such as mercury they might contain, making sardines a great option.

If you’re unsure of what your current fatty acid intake levels are, visit and enter your dietary intake. This will calculate the omega-3 levels in your body. Additionally, there are functional lab tests we can order to analyze your body’s fatty acid levels.

Symptoms of an essential fatty acid deficiency include:

·       Dry, itchy, flaky skin

·       Hair dandruff

·       Brittle or cracking nails

·       Achy or stiff joints

·       Constipation or slimy/greasy stools

·       PMS

·       High LDL/Low HDL/High Triglycerides

·       Depression/ADHD/Anxiety



Haag, M. (2003). Essential fatty acids and the brain. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Revue Canadienne De Psychiatrie, 48(3), 195–203.

Hibbeln, J. R., Nieminen, L. R. G., Blasbalg, T. L., Riggs, J. A., & Lands, W. E. M. (2006). Healthy intakes of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids: estimations considering worldwide diversity. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83(6 Suppl), 1483S-1493S.

Lands, B. (2012). Consequences of Essential Fatty Acids. Nutrients, 4(9), 1338–1357.

Simopoulos, A. P. (2008). The importance of the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio in cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases. Experimental Biology and Medicine (Maywood, N.J.), 233(6), 674–688.