New research shows omega-3 fatty acids – docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in particular — may play an important role in moderating more than just health conditions specific to the heart, and may have a positive effect on substance abuse and certain mental illnesses.
- DHA helps stabilize mood swings & prevent mania
- Antidepressants and DHA have similar effects
- There is a relationship between alcohol abuse and DHA levels
So, how did they figure that out?
Exactly How Fish Oil Helps Depression has been a top question among researchers for quite some time. Using mice models of bipolar disorder, the Indiana researchers found that DHA fatty acids appeared to “normalize” mouse behavior on a general basis, and also prevented bouts of mania when the animals were placed under stress.
Lead researcher and associate professor of psychiatry, Alexander Niculescu, MD., Ph.D, noted that the precise genes being effected by the DHA were identical to those being targeted by common psychiatric medications.
What’s so special about that?
Not all researchers agree with the idea that Fish Oil May Treat Depression As Effectively As Prozac, but the debate is certainly heating up. Essentially, these new findings show that the DHA in fish oil is *capable* of producing the same effects in bipolar patients as those commonly found when using conventional drug therapies.
Since many of the drugs commonly used to treat this disorder cause undesirable side effects, these findings offer a novel opportunity to begin looking at less severe treatments which may be better tolerated.
Pretty interesting stuff!
Perhaps more interesting though, was that the mice being treated with DHA also showed a diminished desire for alcohol.
“These bipolar mice, like some bipolar patients, love alcohol. The mice on DHA drank much less; it curtailed their alcohol abusive behaviour,” said Niculescu, adding that this was an unexpected and exciting observation.
Although novel, these findings build on earlier research suggesting low levels of DHA may be to blame for relapse behavior in substance abusers. Discoveries like this are important — not just in scientific communities — but to people with mood disorders, too.
It’s not uncommon to see “comorbidity” — or dual diagnosed conditions — in people suffering from mental health problems. Niculescu wasn’t about to leave this finding to chance, though. The researchers recreated the study, this time using well studied animal alcohol models and noted similar findings.
Niculescu and his team probed further and found that molecular changes in the subject’s brains corresponded to changes found in “biomarkers”, or chemical expressions of the disorder in the blood.
While that sounds pretty complicated (and it IS), it basically means that the two events (1. the effects of the drugs and 2. the effects of the disorder) are likely to be closely related.
Niculescu’s findings are particularly helpful because they will allow future scientists and researchers to more easily reproduce the same conditions in human models of bipolar disorder and alcoholism.