(RxWiki News) The benefits of omega-3, or fish oil, supplements have long been touted for improving heart health. Recently, they've shown a surprising new advantage: reducing stress, anxiety and depression.
The discovery came about as a sort of accidental side effect. Medical students noticed reduced stress and anxiety levels prior to taking exams when using fish oil supplements.
"Taking omega-3 fish oil supplements may reduce stress and depression."
The polyunsaturated fatty acids in omega-3 supplements are thought to reduce cytokine levels — substances that can cause cell inflammation. Cytokine production increases when a person is under psychological stress.
Researchers at Ohio State University decided to try out the supplements on 68 medical students as they neared exams. Half the students took omega-3 and the other half were given placebos.
While the trial didn't go as planned, due to changes in the medical school exam schedule, the study still returned some interesting results. The med students who took the fish oil still showed a 20 percent reduction in anxiety, and blood tests showed that their cytokine levels were 14 percent lower.
Earlier research suggested that reducing the level of cytokines might reduce depression. This study is the latest of three decades of research into links between psychological stress and immunity.
The researchers aren’t recommending that everyone start adding omega-3 to their daily diet, however.
“It may be too early to recommend a broad use of omega-3 supplements throughout the public, especially considering the cost and the limited supplies of fish needed to supply the oil,” said Martha Belury, Ph.D, professor of human nutrition and study co-author.
“People should just consider increasing their omega-3 through their diet.” These fatty acids are most prevalent in fish such as salmon and trout.
The study was published in the July 2011 issue of Brain, Behavior and Immunity.