Low levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) have been linked to depression and suicide as well as cardiovascular and inflammatory disorders. These omega-3 fatty acids include eicosapentaeoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). In the past, DHA was usually associated with relieving depression but recent research indicates that EPA is more effective. The research suggests that the administration of EPA, rather than DHA, is responsible for the beneficial effects of omega-3 PUFA intake as therapeutic agents in patients with depressive disorders. It is surprising as DHA is a major structural component of neuronal membranes, therefore, I would assume that increasing DHA would have more beneficial effects on brain function, rather than EPA. So what does all this mean for you? Increasing your intake of oily fish, for example, salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring is beneficial but you also need to eat other foods. These include flaxseed, extra virgin olive oil, walnuts, nuts, chia seeds and avocado.
To obtain this wonderful omega-3 fatty acid from plant sources, we must rely on the conversion of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from plants to supply EPA and DPA. Unfortunately, this process is inefficient as the enzymes involved for this conversion become disrupted. Conversion can also be slowed by genetics, age, health status and a poor diet with a high intake of omega-6 fatty acids.
Deficiencies of zinc, magnesium, vitamins B3, B6 and C can also inhibit the process. If all this sounds too complicated . To put it simply, if you are a vegetarian or vegan, or if you don’t consume enough of these foods, if you have health issues or are pregnant/lactating, you may be lacking in EPA and DHA. The best option for you is to take a good quality fish oil or a vegan algae supplement.