We predict that supplementing with vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and other key micronutrients to reach sufficiently high serum levels will boost serotonin production and function in the brain, thereby improving cognitive function and limiting impulsive behavior.
EPA fatty acids, one of the main acids in fish oil, are especially helpful for depression because they increase your levels of serotonin, an important mood-boosting chemical.
One meta-analysis examined 10 clinical trials and found that omega-3 fatty acids have a significant antidepressant effect in patients diagnosed with MDD or bipolar disorder. They also found that the dose of EPA administered did not have a significant impact on the rate of efficacy .
Researchers have suggested it may be related to their effects on serotonin and serotonin receptors in the brain. Others have proposed that omega-3s from fish oil could improve depressive symptoms through anti-inflammatory effects ( 15 ).
Dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids increases dopamine levels and D2 receptor binding, and lowers monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B) activity in the prefrontal cortex and D2 receptor binding in the striatum (Chalon et al., 1998).
Researchers found that people who took high doses of omega-3s (up to 2,000 mg a day) seemed to have the most reduction in anxiety symptoms. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are usually derived from fish oil, have a number of biological effects in the body.
While Vitamin D helps you make serotonin, fish oils help your serotonin work better. More specifically, a key component of omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), by reducing brain inflammation, facilitates the release of serotonin from serotonin neurons.
For example, omega-3s can easily travel through the brain cell membrane and interact with mood-related molecules inside the brain. They also have anti-inflammatory actions that may help relieve depression.
Then in the May 1999 Archives of General Psychiatry, Andrew Stoll, MD, and colleagues reported a study of fish oil in 30 manic-depressive patients. Sixty-four percent of those who took 10 grams of fish oil per day for four months reported a marked improvement in their symptoms.
Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that can affect mood. Eating foods that contain the essential amino acid known as tryptophan can help the body to produce more serotonin. Foods, including salmon, eggs, spinach, and seeds are among those that help boost serotonin naturally.
Increasing serotonin levels can be done naturally. The best ways to do this are eating well, getting out in the sun or supplementing with vitamin D, exercising, taking adaptogens, and managing stress. Serotonin can also be increased synthetically with antidepressants.
Vitamin D helps encourage serotonin production and release. If you're not getting enough vitamin D, taking a supplement may help reduce symptoms related to low serotonin levels, but check with your doctor before beginning supplementation.
While there is research suggesting that fish oil may improve symptoms of depression, studies have not yet shown how it acts on the neurotransmitters in the brain, or even if it does. So it's impossible to know if fish oil acts similarly as antidepressants, Muskin says.
Research suggests omega-3s can help mild to major depression and even schizophrenia. Long recognized for their heart-health benefits, omega-3 fatty acids are emerging as an effective therapy for mood disorders ranging from major depression and postpartum depression to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
How long does it take for omega-3's to work? Levels of omega-3's build up quickly in the body once you take supplements. But it may take 6 weeks to 6 months to see a significant change in mood, pain, or other symptoms.
Use of a diet rich in non-predatory fish or fish oil may prevent or moderate both depression or bipolar disorder and may be effective in stabilizing mood and enhancing the effectiveness of conventional anti-depressants. Although the evidence is preliminary, omega-3s may also serve as a neuroprotectant.
It's also possible to increase serotonin levels without taking medicine. One natural way to increase serotonin is by working out. When you pedal your bicycle or lift weights, your body releases more tryptophan, the amino acid your brain uses to make serotonin.
Certain drugs and substances such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, NutraSweet, antidepressants, and some cholesterol-lowering medications deplete serotonin and other neurotransmitter levels. Hormone changes cause low levels of serotonin and neurotransmitter imbalances.
Research suggests that supplementing with magnesium may help to increase serotonin levels. In fact, low serotonin levels have been observed in patients with a magnesium deficiency. The study that discussed raising serotonin with magnesium reported success.
Omega-3 supplementation reduced total cortisol levels throughout the stressor. The high dose of omega-3 (2.5 g/d), but not the low dose (1.25 g/d), produced a significant (19%) reduction in total cortisol release compared to the placebo group.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Improve Sleep
Low levels of DHA are also linked to lower levels of the hormone melatonin, which helps you fall asleep ( 100 ). Studies in both children and adults reveal that supplementing with omega-3 increases the length and quality of sleep ( 98 , 100 ).
Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation. It is important to have the proper ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 (another essential fatty acid) in the diet.