Fish Oil: Possible Stress Soother

Stress reactions blunted in people after taking fish oil supplements

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The health benefits of fish oil have been unclear in the past. But it may be possible that fish oil simply promotes good blood flow in the face of mental stressors.

In a recent study, a group of healthy adults were given fish oil supplements daily for eight weeks before undergoing a mental stress test.

The results of the study showed that the heart rates of people who had taken fish oil did not increase in reaction to stress as much as the heart rates of people who had not taken fish oil.

"Ask a nutritionist about fish oil supplements."

Jason R. Carter, PhD, chair and associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan, led a study into the effects of fish oil on blood flow as a person reacts to mental stressors.

According to the authors, previous studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish oil, may improve blood flow throughout the body, therefore protecting the heart. However, research has yet to show exactly how fish oil intake leads to better blood flow.

For this small study, 67 young adults who did not have high blood pressure were split into two groups. The first half of the participants were given fish oil supplements for eight weeks and the second half were given a fake supplement of olive oil as a placebo.

Before taking the supplements, and again eight weeks after taking daily supplements, the participants were put through a 5-minute mental stress test, which consisted of math exercises. During the mental stress tests, the participants were monitored for changes in heart rate, blood pressure and the part of the nervous system that triggers muscles into action when stressed.

The participants were asked not to drink alcohol or caffeine nor to exercise for at least 12 hours before testing. No smokers were included in this study.

Special sensors were fixed to each participant’s forearm and calf muscles to measure nervous system reactivity to the stress test.

The results of the study found that fish oil blunted heart rate reactions to stress, but not blood pressure reactions.

Fish oil blunted nervous system reactions to mental stress in the forearm and calf muscles, but not the frequency or incidence of muscle bursts in reaction to stress.

“These findings support and extend the growing evidence that fish oil may have positive health benefits regarding neural cardiovascular (blood flow through the nerves and heart) control in humans,” concluded the authors.

The study authors recommended further studies look into the long-term effects of fish oil supplements on the human body’s reaction to mental stress.

This study was published in April in the American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provided funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 29, 2013
Last Updated:
August 8, 2013