Omega-3 Consumption Associated with Reduced Anxiety in New Cross-Sectional Analysis


In the analysis, increased intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and fish was shown to exert a possible protective effect against anxiety.

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A new cross-sectional analysis1 published in the journal Nutrients indicates that omega-3 consumption may help reduce symptoms of anxiety disorders. In the analysis, increased intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and fish was shown to exert a possible protective effect against anxiety.

The current analysis is based on data from the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health (ELSA-Brazil), which is a population-based, cohort study on diet and mental health. Per the authors, the ELSA-Brasil’s primary goal was “to investigate the incidence of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and their biological and social determinants.” The study was conducted in subjects aged 35–74 years from six Brazilian cities: Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, São Paulo, and Vitória.

The current study’s cross-sectional analysis included a total of 12,268 adults. Researchers included cross-sectional data from the baseline examination of the study, which was conducted from August 2008 to December 2010.

Researchers determined subjects’ dietary exposure using a quantitative food-frequency questionnaire regarding 114 food items consumed in the past 12 months. Researchers wrote that they “quantified the daily intake of fish and seafood (g/day), n-6 (linoleic acid-g/day and arachidonic acid-g/day), n-3 fatty acids including alpha-linolenic-g/day, eicosapentaenoic (EPA-g/day), docosapentaenoic (DPA-g/day), and docosahexaenoic (DHA-g/day), as well as all polyunsaturated fatty acids. We also calculated the n-6/n-3 ratio.”

They also determined subjects’ mental health using the Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised Version test. In order to establish subjects’ mental health, the researchers used the International Classification of Diseases, which is the international "standard diagnostic tool for epidemiology, health management, and clinical purposes.” Of the total study population, 15.4% were determined to have anxiety disorders. 

After reviewing the data, researchers adjusted for factors including sociodemographic variables, cardiovascular risk factors, diet variables, and depression. They found that higher omega-3 intake was associated with decreased instances of anxiety. However, wrote the authors, “although results suggest a possible protective effect of n-3 fatty acids against anxiety, all associations lost significance after adjustment for multiple comparisons.” They added that additional prospective data in ELSA-Brazil may help to shed additional light on the possible effects of omega-3 consumption on anxiety and mental wellbeing.

The authors noted some potential study weaknesses: “Our study has some limitations. It is a cross-sectional analysis that only permits the study of association, but not of causality. Information about diet was measured at one single point in time. FFQs are prone to recall bias since individuals are asked to report their intake retrospectively and usually refer to prolonged periods of time.”



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1. Natacci L et al., “Omega-3 consumption and anxiety disorders: a cross-sectional, analysis of the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adults Health (ELSA-Brazil),” Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 6 (May 24, 2018): 663

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