How An Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency Can Cause Depression

…and what you can do about it.

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Photo by jonathan ocampo on Unsplash

How does this type of depression come about?

Many researchers believe that there is a close link between cell membrane fluidity, dietary fat, and neurological and psychiatric conditions especially depression. With greater amounts of saturated fat in our diet, our receptors are less likely to respond effectively to neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.

Diets that are rich in unsaturated fats, particularly the omega-3 fatty acids, seem to reduce some types of depression. However unsaturated fats are not the best choices. Sunflower oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, and most other vegetable oils contain lots of undesirable Omega-6 fatty acids.

The dopamine and serotonin receptors of your brain are composed of Omega-3 fatty acids including DHA, EPA, and Eicosanoids. The body does not have to get all of these from food sources since it can manufacture all of these products provided that there is an ample supply of the primary Omega-3 fatty acid, and Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA). ALA can be found in various foods including canola oil, flax, flaxseed, and Brazil nuts, and green leafy vegetables.


Numerous epidemiological studies have been published demonstrating that a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids may encourage the onset of depression, and conversely that an adequate intake of these nutrients can contribute to the prevention of the disorder. Interestingly this discovery was made when two researchers (Hibbeln and Salem) noticed a number of publications that pointed out that much cholesterol-lowering programs lead to cases of depression and suicide. According to Hibbeln and Salem, these extreme emotional reactions were not based on the lower cholesterol level as might have initially been thought but rather on the fact that cholesterol-reducing diets often create a reduced dietary ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. This results in a lowering of the omega-3 fatty acid concentration in body tissues, and an associated reduction (at the same time) DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, C22:6 n-3) in the brain. Many experts contend that if omega-3 fatty acid is replaced by an omega-6 fatty acid, changes in neuronal cell membrane properties may occur, which will increase the vulnerability to depression.

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