Depression and fats and oils

Depression and fats and oils

Lighter, Brighter You Blog: Depression and faits and oils

Eating the right fats and oils can lift your mood naturally

The link between heart disease and depression is a common one, and you may assume that it is quite normal for someone who has heart disease to be depressed.

However, depression is believed to precede cardiovascular disease (CVD), sometimes by decades, leaving researchers with the impression that there may be common underlying physiological or biochemical aspects between these two disorders.

Common symptoms between cardiovascular disease and depression

  • Abnormal bruising among depressed patients led to the investigation of platelet reactivity, revealing that this measure is elevated in depressed patients. This is also the case among people with CVD.
  • Abnormal heart rate stability, which is paradoxically a marker for increased risk of sudden cardiac death, is also present in depressed patients.
  • Triglyceride and LDL-cholesterol levels are both elevated in cases of major depression, even more so when anxiety is linked to the depressive state, while HDL levels are significantly reduced. This is also the case with CVD patients.
  • Obesity, as well as excess abdominal fat, are also risk factors for both depression and CVD.

When combined, these factors are seen as predisposing people to CVD, and they are also present in people who are depressed who haven’t yet got CVD.

Therefore, it would seem highly likely that they are all linked to some fundamental, common, underlying factor, as it would be very unlikely that, combined, they all point in different directions.

How fats can be related to cardiovascular disease AND depression

International variations in the occurrence/incidence of depression shows a highly significant correlation with national dietary intakes of Essential Fatty Acids (EFA) through the consumption of fish.

Intervention studies have clearly indicated that when depressed patients were given omega-3 supplements, the symptoms of depression were lifted.

These two factors indicate either that dietary intakes of omega 3s are directly related to rates of depression, or the ability to metabolise them is.

However, it is clear that low dietary intake is directly linked to increased risk of depression, so supplementing with them should (and has been shown to) positively influence rates of depression.

When analysing RBC (red blood cell) membrane FA composition, we see that it reflects dietary intake, and as evidence points to this level of FA reflecting those in the brain, we can use the RBC membrane measurement of FAs to measure – indirectly – the composition of brain fats.

When we have this measurement, we can supplement with the EFAs and lower the rates of depression.

How do fats influence depression?

Research indicates that omega 3s act as antidepressants by, among other things, reducing the severity of neurotransmission abnormalities, membrane viscosity/stickiness, regulating the release of substances that assist with carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, as well as anti-inflammatory activity.

Membrane viscosity is particularly interesting when we discuss fatty acids, as damaged fats and saturated fats are harder, stiffer and more viscous, which negatively influences the membrane-dependent functions.

Undamaged, essential fatty acids, are less viscous, less stiff and more flexible. This unique molecular structure also influences permeability, which has further negative implications if it is hampered.

Specific neurotransmitters are influenced by membrane composition, specifically serotonin and dopamine, both of which are implicated in depression.

It is simple to supplement with the right EFAs to facilitate cell membrane structure, which has a positive cascade in terms of neurotransmission and the metabolism of nutrients.

Furthermore, depression is also a predisposing factor for type II diabetes, not only CVD. People who suffer from depression are also at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. So, these diseases may all be based on the same underlying deficiency, which isn’t difficult to prevent.


Amin AA, et al. Acute coronary syndrome patients with depression have low blood cell membrane omega-3 fatty acid levels. Psychosom Med 2008 Oct; 70(8);856-62.

Peet M (ed.) Phospholipid spectrum disorder in psychiatry. Lancashire, UK: Marius Press; 1999.

Ramsden CE, et al. Dietary fat quality and coronary heart disease prevention: a unified theory based on evolutionary, historical, global and modern perspectives. Curr Treat Options Cardiovasc Med 2009 Aug; 11(4);289-301.

Sinclair AJ, et al. Omega 3 fatty acids and the brain: review of studies in depression. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2007;16(Suppl 1);391-7.

Whooley MA, et al. Depressive symptoms, health behaviours and risk of cardiovascular events in patients with coronary heart disease. JAMA 2008 Nov 26;300(20);2379-88.