Mitigating the Effects of Stress
with Algal Omega-3s
There are thousands of self-proclaimed “foodies” positioning themselves as health and wellness experts, but Jane Dummer RD—President of Jane Dummer Consulting—is the real deal. A registered dietitian and respected thought leader in the food industry, Jane holds a Nutrition Science degree from one of the world’s leading food universities. She consults with medium to large food and beverage companies across North America and has made countless media appearances as both a guest and commentator. The author of “The Need for Seeds: How to Make Seeds an Everyday Food in Your Healthy Diet,” Jane is also a writer for Baker’s Journal and a member of the College of Dietitians of Ontario. She has served on Scientific Advisory Boards for Danone Canada and the Canadian Foundation of Dietetic Research.
Nutrition plays a key role in brain development and mental health. The role of omega-3 fatty acids in physical health is well established, and their role in mental health is becoming increasingly evident. Omega-3s are involved in a wide range of physiological functions that are related to neurogenesis, neurotransmission, and neuroinflammation. Therefore, they play fundamental roles in the development, functioning, and aging of the brain. As we discussed in The Health Benefits of Omega-3s, they are an essential fat, ones the body cannot make on its own. This means we either need to get our daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids from the foods we eat or from dietary supplements.
Most North American adults (including childbearing-age and pregnant people) consume significantly fewer omega-3s than the daily recommended dose of 500mg of DHA and/or EPA(1, 2).
Excellent nutritional habits are a mainstay of physical health, and its importance in mental health is gaining increasing recognition. There has been a recent upsurge in examining the role of nutrition in the development, management, and prevention of mental health disorders. This is a result of understanding that nutrition can influence important pathways associated with psychological health, including inflammation, the gut microbiome, immune responses, and cognitive abilities.
Growing evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in the prevention and treatment of stress-related anxiety (3,4,5,6,7).
The consumption of a high-quality diet, rich in omega-3s, can reduce depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms (3,5,6). Evidence suggests consuming omega-3 fatty acids containing approximately 300 mg of EPA and DHA combined per day demonstrated beneficial effects to decrease stress-related damage and helped with neuroprotection and neuroinflammation (5).
Good, quality sleep is essential for positive health, cognitive functioning, and emotional wellbeing in both children and adults (10,11). Stress, anxiety, and modern-day lifestyle factors including digital dependency may lead to sleep disturbances. Sleep disturbance is a risk factor for several health problems, such as hypertension, weight gain, and decreased longevity. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults 18 to 60 years of age sleep ≥ 7 hours per night (12).
Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, is a key component in maintaining proper cell structure and function in the brain (10,11,12,13).
Overall, studies support the beneficial role of omega-3s for good sleep quality (10,11,12,14,15). Research in both children dosing at 600 mg of algal DHA daily (10) and adults dosing at 900 mg of DHA daily (11) reveals that supplementing with DHA omega-3 fatty acids may increase sleep quality.
Nutritional intake is vital for human biological function and contributes to the maintenance and improvement of physical and mental health (16). There is increasing interest in the use of nutrient-based therapies in the treatment of mood disorders (9,14,16,18). Healthy lifestyle factors like consuming a balanced dietary plan daily, being active, managing stress, and getting good quality sleep can all impact mood.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a promising natural treatment for mood disorders, with different mechanisms of action proposed (8,9,14,16,17):
More than ever, considering the dietary factors that lead to optimal mental wellbeing should be part of your health care plan. Low omega-3 intake may predispose certain individuals to anxiety and depression. This represents an interesting strategy for dietary intervention with omega-3s for these individuals (18). Omega-3 supplementation is a promising natural solution that may have additional beneficial effects for people with mood disorders (9,17).
Chronic (or persistent) pain is a complex problem that affects up to 40 per cent of people in Western populations (21). Unhealthy dietary habits and lifestyles may induce the onset and perception of pain (21,22). The proposed pathophysiology and mechanisms that perpetuate chronic pain are constantly emerging, but persistent low-grade inflammation (neuroinflammation) has been suggested as a primary driver in this process (21,22). Inflammation sometimes persists for a long time, even without an infection or injury, possibly due to stress and unhealthy lifestyle factors. This is called chronic or long-term inflammation.
Omega-3s are known to have anti-inflammatory properties, and inflammation is often at the root of many health concerns including pain (21, 22, 23,24).
Exercise is often recommended as part of a comprehensive pain management strategy. However, acute muscle soreness (pain) and stiffness from exercise can negatively affect an individual’s ability to start and maintain consistent levels of physical activity. Algal DHA Omega-3 supplementation has been shown to assist in muscle recovery via anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive (pain inhibiting) effects (24), which can help make exercise accessible and maintainable.
Pain can affect quality of life and the ability to perform daily activities (21,22,23). Evidence suggests including omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in the overall anti-inflammatory dietary plan for pain management may help decrease inflammation and inhibit pain. Given the association among pain, inflammation, and metabolic abnormalities noted from mental health irritations described in stress, sleep and mood, a strategic dietary intervention including omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for pain management will most likely contribute to better outcomes for all.
The importance of a healthy dietary pattern should never be underestimated in the management of our physical and mental health. Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for optimal health. Omega-3 supplementation is a promising natural solution that may be beneficial in deceasing stress related symptoms, increasing the quality of sleep, impacting the biomarkers to promote a favourable mood, and reducing the low-grade inflammation associated with pain.