Vitamin D and Omega-3 Fats in the Prevention and Treatment of Depression
Nutrition / Natural Medicine Update No. 29: November 1, 2016
with Dr. James Meschino
Research Topic: Vitamin D and Omega-3 Fats in the Prevention and Treatment of Depression
Source: Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology Journal (2015)
A number of studies have shown that low vitamin D blood levels are associated with an increased risk of depression. As well, other preliminary studies have shown that omega-3 fat supplementation from fish oil has improved the management of depression when used in conjunction with anti-depressant medications, or in some cases, such as post-partum depression, when used as a singular therapy. Researchers have been looking into the mechanisms through which vitamin D and omega-3 fats can help prevent and treat depression. A study published in June, 2015, in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal, has shed some further light on this subject.
The researchers point out that recent findings show that vitamin D is required to activate the synthesis of a key enzyme that converts the amino acid tryptophan (found in food) into serotonin. Serotonin is the feel-good brain chemical that is depleted in depression. Many anti-depressant drugs work by inhibiting the breakdown of serotonin, which in turn, helps raise and restore more optimal serotonin brain levels. However, vitamin D appears to work synergistically in this regard by increasing the brain’s ability to actually manufacture more serotonin – something drugs can not yet do. We know that vitamin D receptors are found on many types of brain cells. It appears that when vitamin D binds to these receptors in certain parts of the brain, it travels to the nucleus of the brain cell, instructing specific genes to switch on the production of the enzyme that converts tryptophan into serotonin. The name of the enzyme is tryptophan hydroxylase-2. The bottom line seems to be that vitamin D may help prevent depression and improve recovery of depression by enabling brain cells to manufacture more serotonin.
Okay, what about omega-3 fats? How do they help prevent and treat depression.? Evidence shows that the omega-3 fish oil fat, known as EPA, increases the release of serotonin from brain cells, so they can spread their message of wellbeing to neighbouring brain cells. As well, the omega-3 fish oil fat known as DHA improves the fluidity of nerve cell membranes, allowing brain cells to more easily receive the serotonin messages sent to them by neighbouring brain cells. So the combined effect of vitamin D, EPA (eicosapentaeonoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) appears to be that they synergistically increase serotonin production, serotonin release and serotonin stimulation in key areas of the brain related to depression.
The authors of the study state: “We propose a model whereby insufficient levels of vitamin D, EPA, or DHA, in combination with genetic factors and at key periods during development, would lead to dysfunctional serotonin activation and function and may be one underlying mechanism that contributes to neuropsychiatric disorders and depression. This model suggests that optimizing vitamin D and marine omega-3 fatty acid intake may help prevent and modulate the severity of brain dysfunction”.
In my view it’s important, for a number of reasons, to ensure that your blood vitamin D level is at or above 85nmol/L (35ng/ml), and that you consider following a supplementation regiment each day that provides 800-1200 mg of fish oil. The emerging evidence continues to suggest that these practices are good for your overall health, and may help to prevent or mitigate the severity of depression and possibly other neuropsychiatric conditions.
I have attached a link to the research abstract in the text below for those wanting more details.
Patrick, R.P., Ames, B.N., Vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2: relevance for ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and impulsive behavior. FASEB, J. 2015, June 29(6):2207-22
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