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It goes by many names — generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety, post-traumatic-stress-disorder, phobia, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder — but most of those suffering from one of the many subsets simply refer to it as anxiety. Yet, there’s nothing simple about anxiety, especially when it comes to understanding the causes and seeking a cure.

Preliminary anxiety-related research has illuminated that what we eat may influence both the onset, aggravation, and alleviation of anxiety symptoms. One food-related substance, in particular, has recently been discovered to have a strong connection with anxiety, these are Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Astounding results of one small study has shown that consuming high dosage Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplements may dramatically decrease anxiety-related symptoms in those with a clinical diagnosis.

Yet, what exactly are these fatty acids, how do you incorporate them into your diet as a plant-based eater, and are they safe? As we take a deep dive into the relationship between Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and anxiety, keep in mind that any dietary change or supplement integration should be reviewed by a medical professional first!

Anxiety 101

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States affecting 40 million people over the age of 18 and, unfortunately, only a little over 36 percent receive any treatment. Yet, due to the vast epidemic-like state of anxiety-related disorders, a surge of research has begun to illuminate the dark corners of this seemingly vast psychological condition. Anxiety tends to be incredibly complex — stemming from various factors including “genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events” — yet, one avenue that is beginning to be prominently researched is lifestyle, and, more specifically diet.

What are Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids?

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Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are an integral and yet fairly recently publicized part of human health that have overreaching and continually surprising benefits.

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s) consist of three acids: a-linolenic acid (ALA), found in plants, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of these last two are found in marine life, specifically oily fish meat and fish oils. These fatty acids are capable of influencing many internal cell functions including the “nature of cell membranes and membrane protein-mediated responses,” lipid-mediator generation, cell signaling, and gene expression. In short, these fatty acids are “essential to normal biochemical functioning in the adult brain.”

While all three acids are important, when it comes to these newly discovered brain-related benefits, the EPA and DHA acids, also called very long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, are key. They have also been linked to overall improved health, protection against diseases — specifically cardiovascular morbidity and rheumatoid arthritis — as well as reduced inflammation and improved cognitive abilities, especially in children. Yet, one of the most drastic and exciting discoveries is the relationship between omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and nerve cell membranes, a relationship that affects the risk of developing and alleviating behavioral disorders.

The Relationship Between Omega-3 PUFA’s and Anxiety

In September of 2018, the JAMA Network published a study conducted by Yutaka J. Matsuoka, MD, PhD, who works in the Division of Health Care Research at the National Cancer Center in Japan, in which Omega-3 PUFA’s were found to have a profound effect on anxiety disorder related symptoms. The study, which included 1,203 participants who were provided either a placebo or varying dosages of the omega-3 PUFA treatment, concluded that the “omega-3 PUFA treatment may be associated with anxiety reduction, which might not only be due to a potential placebo effect but also from the associations of treatment with reduced anxiety symptoms.”

While it was found that the anti-anxiety benefits (referred to as anxiolytic effects) of these omega-3 PUFAs was more prominent in those with clinical diagnoses, the far-reaching implications of the study’s outcome is incredibly exciting for those suffering from anxiety. The authors of this study are moving into another phase of the trial and will hopefully have even more data to build upon soon!

Safety First!

Before making changes to your diet, it’s important to speak with a medical professional. The human body is similarly built and yet we are all vastly different and may react poorly to a change in diet. While also speaking to a professional, you should take time to research the right supplement and dosage based upon your age, weight, and lifestyle.

Luckily, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) created a reference guide called the Dietary Reference Intake. This dietary reference chart is a guide for generally healthy people based on age and gender. Due to the fact that there is such little research available on omega-3 PUFAs the Dietary Reference Intake guide provides adequate intake (AI) recommendations — meeting nutritional adequacy — rather than recommended dietary allowance (RDA) — providing an average daily intake sufficient to meet nutrient requirements.

For example, adults between the ages of 18 and 50 are recommended an adequate intake of 1.6 grams for men and 1.1 grams for women. These numbers are also affected by pregnant women, as well as women who are lactating. Therefore, once again, it must be stressed that speaking with a medical professional before beginning any sort of supplement regimen is paramount.

Omega-3 Supplements

Those practicing plant-based eating face greater challenges due to the fact that the specific omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids that are linked to reduced anxiety symptoms reside in marine life (such as fatty fish and fish oils). If you are strictly vegetarian or vegan, this is even a larger hurdle to master. Yet, this is where supplements truly shine! Once you’ve received the thumbs up from your doc, try out a few of these omega-3 supplements!

Sundown Naturals Vegetarian Omega 3-6-9

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Sundown Naturals offers a unique supplement blend that not only offers a dose of that anxiety fighting Omega-3, but also Omega-6 and Omega-9. Sundown Naturals Vegetarian Omega 3-6-9 is created via cold pressed flaxseed oil and sunflower seed oil making it truly an all-vegetarian option. With that said, it’s important to note that research is still new on the effects of a-linolenic acid (plant-based Omega-3) in regards to anxiety, therefore, this vegetarian option may not have the wanted anxiety-related effects desired. This supplement is also 100 percent dairy, lactose, gluten, wheat, and artificial flavoring free.

Looking to get more Omega-3 in your diet? Look no further, we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

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