As a pharmacist I see the alarming rate that antidepressant medication is used, especially in young people. Along with this use, anti-anxiety and sleep medication are also one of the most commonly used medications that leave my pharmacy. Statistics tell us that the number of patients diagnosed with depression increases by approximately 20% per year, that roughly 10% of us experience depression like symptoms at some point in our lives and that 80% of those with these symptoms never receive any specific treatment for their condition. (Healthline). More alarming is the decreasing age of onset of diagnosed depression in our young population. It is common for me to see parents of teenagers that are suffering from depression and anxiety.
When we look at a map of the world that shows the global distribution of depression, it looks much like a lot of other global distribution maps for diseases like cancer and obesity. The “Western” type societies stand out. Western refers to many things but for this purpose it refers to what is introduced into our bodies in the way of our diet. The increase in the omega 6 in our foods over the last 60 years and certainly since the introduction of farming has taken our roughly 1:1 omega 6 : omega 3 ratio to something closer to 16:1. This increase of omega 6 into the food chain via the way we feed our farm animals has drastically changed our once anti-inflammatory food to an inflammatory type diet that our DNA was not designed to function with in a healthy manner. Added to this is the introduction of vegetable oils and omega 6 based oils that don’t spoil as easily as their omega 3 counterparts. This leads to easier distribution of the food to its destination. These two fatty acids compete for the same enzyme systems in the body with opposite effects. There is virtually no omega 3 in safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, sesame and peanut oils. Flax has more three than six and walnut, canola and soybean at least show some omega 3.
Consumption of omega 3 oils and fish in the diet has been correlated with a lower rate of depression as well as post partum depression, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder as well as suicidal ideation. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC533861/ . More specifically, Krill oil, with naturally occurring phospholipids and a higher concentration of EPA/DHA omega 3 fatty acids has shown even better results. Epidemiological, lab and clinical evidence shows a positive result in numerous studies. A number of different mechanisms have been postulated for this effect, and an increase of distribution of food from the affected countries to worldwide destinations threatens the mental state of those countries as well. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909
Although fish is often thought of as a common source of omega 3, there are plant sources available. Quite often these plant sources supply alpha linolenic acid (ALA), the parent compound of EPA and DHA. This conversion from ALA to EPA/DHA is inefficient in the human body however so it is more desirable to get the EPA/DHA supplement. (Rebecca Long, Omega-3 Fatty Acid Deficiencies: How Our Modern Diet Has Made Us Unhappy)
Getting back to your kids and our young population that are experiencing depression more often. Although I always recommend GI repair and probiotics to increase serotonin and improve mood in these patients, a key ingredient to any mental health protocol should always consider a measure of omega 3 and 6 via a simple blood spot test and corresponding supplementation with omega 3, and then a retest. Personally, 4 g daily for a month of EPA/DHA increased my omega 3 markers in the blood positively but even with this higher dose there was still room for improvement in the omega 3 score in the blood. It is important to remember that you are not suffering depression because of a physiological deficiency in an antidepressant and this disorder and anxiety do not occur randomly for no reason. I sell antidepressants daily as prescriptions, I see the side effects they produce and I regularly steer patients towards omega 3 and probiotics for depression. It’s important to not change your prescription therapy without discussing it with your doctor. Those on blood thinners may need to use extra caution when using omega 3 supplementation.
You are what you eat