Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that around 18 percent of Americans have anxiety. Anxiety and depression are often grouped together, but the symptoms are actually very different. While common symptoms of depression include despair and anger, symptoms of anxiety lie more towards fear and panic. However, the two are usually treated in a similar way; primarily through serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) although natural treatments like fish oil are becoming increasingly popular.

What is Fish Oil?

As the name suggests, fish oil is oil that’s taken from the tissues of oily fish, such as cod and salmon. Larger, predatory fish are often preferred because they typically eat a diet high in algae and smaller fish, which are both excellent sources of Omega-3 acids, which are some of the most important aspects of fish oil.

Omega-3 is a type of ‘good’ fat; an unsaturated fat, like that found in nuts and seeds, that doesn’t have the same cholesterol-raising effects of ‘bad’ saturated fats. In fact, unsaturated fats could actually help to  lower cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.

There are many benefits of fish oil; it’s been shown to help reduce inflammation, protect the heart, regulate blood pressure, and even help treat skin conditions such as psoriasis. However, for those who suffer with their mental health, one of the most interesting benefits of fish oil is its effect on anxiety.

Fish Oil for Anxiety

There appears to be definite links between fish oil and anxiety, with many studies showing that symptoms of anxiety can be greatly reduced with regular and adequate fish oil supplementation.

Dopamine

Inside the brain is a structure called the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for processing fearful thoughts, and while it can be frustrating in people with an overactive amygdala, it is a part of the brain that is absolutely essential. Without a sense of fear, we’d be oblivious to everyday risks, like cars! Studies have found that the chemical dopamine affects how the amygdala reacts, with low levels associated with increased activity. Fish oil normalizes dopamine levels in the body, helping to regulate the amygdala.

Inflammation

Some professionals argue that anxiety isn’t a ‘real’ disorder, and is instead a symptom of inflammation. While this is a topic of great debate, it’s worth considering whether there could be a link between some cases of anxiety and inflammatory disorders. Some research suggests that inflammation deriving from viral or bacterial disease could potentially affect signals to the brain, affecting mood. Thanks to its powerful anti inflammatory properties, fish oil may provide secondary benefits to mental health.

What is the Best Fish Oil Supplement?

There are many types of fish oil available, some as fish oil tablets, and some as liquid fish oil. Krill oil, nordic fish oil, cod liver oil, and salmon oil are all popular types of fish oil. When choosing a fish oil, look for one that contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are two of the most important forms of Omega-3 fatty acids. These fish oils are likely to be the most safe and effective.

Is Fish Oil Safe?

Fish oil is safe, although some people may experience some mild side effects of fish oil, including excess gas and small bouts of diarrhea. There is currently no official or recognized fish oil dosage for supplements in the United States, so it’s advised to follow any instructions closely. However, if you’re thinking of upping your intake of oily fish, each state has implemented a set of fish consumption guidelines due to high levels of mercury present in some fish. The Food & Drug Administration advises limited oily fish intake to 2 or 3 four ounce servings per week for health adults.

For those taking medications, particularly blood thinners or blood sugar medications, it’s best to speak to your doctor before taking fish oil supplements or making any major dietary changes due to the possible interactions that fish oil could have with some medications. Generally, however, fish oil is very safe.