How An Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency Can Cause Depression
Essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are fatty acids that humans and other animals must ingest because the body requires them for good health but cannot synthesize them. A deficiency of them can lead to serious clinical depression
The term “essential fatty acid” refers to fatty acids required for biological processes but does not include the fats that only act as fuel. Essential fatty acids should not be confused with essential oils that are “essential” in the sense of being a concentrated essence.
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.
The process by which the body converts Alpha-Linolenic Acid involves numerous steps. First ALA is converted by your body to EPA; EPA to DHA; and finally DHA to Omega-3 Eichosanoids. There are many factors, which can short-circuit this process. One of the most important factors in reducing the intake of vegetable oils.
The essential fatty acid DHA is one of the most important nutrients for healthy brain function. Scientists have discovered that severely depressed people have lower levels of DHA, and the more depressed they are, the less DHA they have.
Theoretically, the body can create its own DHA out of the parent ALA fatty acid, however many different factors, including deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals or an excess of Omega-6 fatty acids in the bloodstream can interfere with this process. Unfortunately, Omega 6 fatty acids use the same enzymes for a similar type as takes place with DHA. This is why it is important to greatly reduce vegetable oils in your diet. These products are high in Omega 6 fatty acids.
Changing eating habits, have increased the use of man-made fats known as trans-fatty acids. These, saturated fats, and vegetable oils high in Omega-6 fatty acids all interfere with our body’s attempt to utilize the tiny amount of Omega-3 fats, including DHA that it gets in the typical diet. One of the causes of depression seems to be the result of a nutritional chain reaction that begins with the increased use of these undesirable types of fat.
If a person has a deficiency of DHA in their blood, their body may begin to use man-made trans-fat molecules as a construction material instead. Unfortunately, trans-fats (hydrogenated oils) have a different shape than DHA: The trans-fat causes the dopamine receptor to become deformed and it becomes dysfunctional. This dysfunctionality over time can result in learning and mood disorders including depression. This situation is even more problematic for a child whose brain is still developing. Deficiencies of DHA have been implicated in various learning and behavioral disorders in children including Attention Deficit Disorder.
One way to balance Omega 3 levels is to avoid any products containing trans-fatty acids. This would include any food that has oils, which have been partly hydrogenated, partly hardened, or hydrogenated. These processed oils and fats are in the majority of prepared foods including crackers, muffins, mayonnaise, French fries, donuts, bread, cookies, margarine, potato chips, and cookies.
The body uses the same enzymes to break down Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids into various compounds. If high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids and low levels of omega 3 fatty acids are in the bloodstream these enzymes will most likely be up by the Omega-6 fatty acids, resulting in the inability of the body to manufacture DHA out of ALA.
The key then is to create a balance between these two fatty acids. In the United States, where an imbalanced diet is par for the course the typical ratio 22:1 in favor of the Omega-6 fatty acids. A healthy ratio is between 1:1 and 4:1.
Good nutrition for brain health should begin at birth. Studies have shown that infants who are fed formula in the United States receive almost no Omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly unsaturated essential nutrients that are an essential part of the neuronal cell membranes. Conversely, breast milk contains DHA and if the mother’s diet is healthy and rich in these fatty acids her breast milk will be rich in them as well. Researchers have found that infants who are fed formulas enriched with Omega-3’s or who are breastfed do better both intellectually, visually, and intellectually. Thus if a mother cannot breastfeed it is important that any formula she chooses to be rich in Omega 3 fatty acids.
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.
Author: Lewis Harrison is an Independent Scholar with a passion for knowledge, personal development, self-improvement, and problem-solving. He is the creator of Harrison’s Applied Game Theory. His website is AskLewis.com
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