Inflammation and mood
Chronic inflammation is an important contributor to a wide range of health problems, including depression and anxiety. Low levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats in the body have been linked to increased rates of depression and anxiety, and people diagnosed with depression have been found to benefit from taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
The current study, published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, looked at the effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplements on inflammation and mood. The 68 healthy medical students who took part answered mood questionnaires and had blood tests to look at markers of inflammation at a low stress time (between exams) and at a high stress time (the day before an exam). Then they received either 2.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day or placebo for 12 weeks, while mood and inflammatory markers were monitored at low and high stress times. The supplements provided EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in a ratio of seven parts EPA to one part DHA.
Anxious mood and inflammation go hand in hand
The researchers found that looming exams did not affect the students' inflammatory activity and mood symptoms; however, there were two important findings from the trial:
- Compared to students in the placebo group, students in the fatty acid supplement group had less inflammatory activity at the end of the study.
- Anxiety symptoms in supplementing students were reduced by 20% compared to students taking the placebo, but there were no differences in changes in depressive symptoms.
"We found that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation was associated with a reduction in anxiety symptoms," said lead study author Dr. Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser of the Ohio State University College of Medicine. "Our findings provide the first evidence that these anti-inflammatory fats may have anxiety-relieving benefits in healthy young adults without an anxiety disorder diagnosis."
An anti-inflammatory approach to good health
In addition to mood symptoms, chronic low-level inflammation has been linked to an array of health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and cancer. Here are some ways you can reduce chronic inflammation and improve your overall health:
- Eat fewer animal fats. The fats from cheese, butter, meat, pork, and poultry are high in an omega-6 fat called arachidonic acid. This fat increases the levels of inflammatory chemicals in the body.
- Stay away from trans-fats. These highly inflammatory synthetic fats, also known as partially hydrogenated fats, are found in many margarines, shortenings, and deep-fried foods.
- Limit sugar. Overeating sugar and refined grains can stress the body's capacity to manage blood sugar, a scenario that can lead to chronically high insulin levels and inflammation.
- Watch your weight. Fat stores in the body produce high amounts of inflammatory chemicals.
- Relax. Stress triggers the release of inflammatory chemicals, but relaxation practices like meditation have the opposite effect.
- Get plenty of sleep. Studies have found that sleep deprivation can trigger an inflammatory response.
(Brain Behav Immun 2011; online publication, accessed 26 August 2011)