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Research Commentary

Omega-3 to Lower Inflammation and Anxiety

A review of

Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, Martha A. Belury, Rebecca Andridge, William B. Malarkey, Ronald Glaser, Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: A randomized controlled trial, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, Volume 25, Issue 8, 2011, Pages: 1725-1734, ISSN 0889-1591, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2011.07.229.

Reviewed by Dr. Justin Thompson

Omega-3 to Lower Inflammation and Anxiety

 

A Summarized Review of the Conclusion

Compared to controls, those students who received n-3 showed a 14% decrease in lipopolysaccharide (LPS) stimulated interleukin 6 (IL-6) production and a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms, without significant change in depressive symptoms. Individuals differ in absorption and metabolism of n-3 PUFA supplements, as well as in adherence; accordingly, planned secondary analyses that used the plasma n-6:n-3 ratio in place of treatment group showed that decreasing n-6:n-3 ratios led to lower anxiety and reductions in stimulated IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) production, as well as marginal differences in serum TNF-α. These data suggest that n-3 supplementation can reduce inflammation and anxiety even among healthy young adults. The reduction in anxiety symptoms associated with n-3 supplementation provides the first evidence that n-3 may have potential anxiolytic benefits for individuals without an anxiety disorder diagnosis.

Quotes from the Article

“The differences in inflammation are particularly striking because our medical students had higher levels of n-3 and lower n-6 than anticipated, based on population data (Simopoulos, 2002). Indeed, their average dietary n-6:n-3 ratio at baseline was 10.82, substantially lower than the typical North American dietary ratios of 15:1 to 17:1 (Simopoulos, 2002). Despite this fact, we nonetheless saw significant decreases in inflammation related to changes in their plasma n-6:n-3 ratios in response to the n-3 PUFA supplements.”

“The fatty acid composition of the modern Western diet has changed dramatically in the last century, and these changes are thought to be related to increases in inflammatory-related diseases. For example, the early hunter-gatherer diet had an n-6:n-3 PUFA ratio of 2:1 to 3:1. However, during the early 1900s, the typical Western diet underwent fundamental alterations with the enormous growth in refined vegetable oil use, a central n-6 source that replaced n-3 PUFAs from fish, wild game, and leaves, leading to the contemporary North American n-6:n-3 ratio of 15:1 to 17:1. It has been suggested that these dramatic shifts in the modern Western diet’s fatty acid composition are related to the increases in depression and cardiovascular disease.”

“In accord with the low incidence reported in large n-3 PUFA studies described above, side effects were infrequent and did not differ between groups. Our 2.5 g/d study dose produced differences in inflammation and anxiety in this young and healthy population. Thus, the risks appear minimal in the face of potential benefits.”

“Inflammation is a prominent feature in the major age-associated sources of death and disability (Sijben and Calder, 2007). The results of our RCT suggest that the simple dietary intervention of increasing n-3 PUFAs could have important benefits.”

Introduction to the Research

Chronic inflammation has been linked to a broad spectrum of health problems including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and rheumatoid arthritis. Fish oil is the prime source for the two key omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). Diets high in n-3 PUFAs may also benefit mood and behavior, particularly depression. Both depression and anxiety can enhance the production of proinflammatory cytokines. Inflammatory mechanisms have been implicated in the pathophysiology of depression, and stressful experiences that sometimes precipitate depression can also boost proinflammatory cytokine production. It was hypothesized that n-3 PUFA supplementation would decrease proinflammatory cytokine production in contrast to placebo. Moreover, we also expected that supplementation would be protective during stressors, blunting stress-related increases in proinflammatory cytokine production.

Research Methodology

To determine whether n-3 decreases proinflammatory cytokine production and depressive and anxiety symptoms in healthy young adults, this parallel group, placebo-controlled, double-blind 12-week RCT compared n-3 supplementation with placebo. The participants, 68 medical students, provided serial blood samples during lower-stress periods as well as on days before an exam. The students received either n-3 (2.5 g/d, 2085 mg eicosapentaenoic acid and 348 mg docosahexanoic acid) or placebo capsules that mirrored the proportions of fatty acids in the typical American diet.

Research Findings

Students who received n-3 showed a 14% decrease in lipopolysaccharide (LPS) stimulated interleukin 6 (IL-6) production and a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms, without significant change in depressive symptoms. Individuals differ in absorption and metabolism of n-3 PUFA supplements, as well as in adherence; accordingly, planned secondary analyses that used the plasma n-6:n-3 ratio in place of treatment group showed that decreasing n-6:n-3 ratios led to lower anxiety and reductions in stimulated IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) production, as well as marginal differences in serum TNF-α. These data suggest that n-3 supplementation can reduce inflammation and anxiety even among healthy young adults.

References

As always with these reviews, these are my takeaways from the article and I encourage you to read the article in its entirety.  The references used in this article by the authors of this article are listed here.

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