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The Benefits of Essential Fatty Acids on Mental Health

by learningdiscoveries on May 30, 2014

Mental health refers to emotional and psychological well-being. Issues from stress to depression and anxiety have a direct impact on emotion and even behaviour. The exact extent depends on the condition along with the factors contributing to it.

Research shows that essential fatty acids (EFAs) are beneficial for mental health. Individuals with an insufficient intake of these fatty acids are at increased risk of developing mental diseases. These include dementia, depression, dyslexia, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Dietary intake of fatty acids is essential for normal brain functions.

Synapses in the brain provide critical functions and are a structure that permits the flow of information from one neuron to another. The synapse is where much of learning and memory takes place. Research indicates that consumption of fatty acids play a key role in strengthening these synapses.

In one Australian study involving 396 children between the ages of 6 and 12, those who were given a drink with omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients performed better on tests measuring learning and memory after six months and one year compared to a control group who did not receive the drink. The results of the study are significant and demonstrate impact of fatty acids on cognitive abilities.

Additional research carried out in various countries and in the United States show a correlation between decreased omega-3 fatty acid consumption and a higher rate of depression. There is also evidence to suggest that individuals with a lower intake of fatty acids are at risk of showing symptoms of schizophrenia.

The importance of including fatty acids in a diet cannot be stressed enough. An overwhelming amount of research demonstrates the correlation that essential fatty acids have on mental health from improving learning to protecting against depression and fighting age related cognitive decline.

In addition to fish oil supplements, omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in the following food sources:

  • Anchovies
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Sturgeon
  • Lake trout
  • Tuna

ALA (another omega-3 fatty acid) can be found in:

  • Walnuts
  • Canola oil
  • Olive oil
  • Flaxseed

Important consideration needs to be taken consuming certain types of food as farm-raised fish tend to have higher levels of contaminants. The benefits of essential fatty acids on mental health are clear but moderation is key.


Frasure-Smith N, Lesperance F, Talajic M (1995), Depression and 18-month prognosis after myocardial infarction. Circulation 91(4):999-1005.



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Rosemary Boon

Registered Psychologist

M.A. (Psych),
Grad. Dip. Ed. Studies (Sch. Counsel),
Grad Dip. Ed. B Sc, Dip. Nut.

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