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Seafood Makes Us Happy – Omega-3s Have the Power to Fight Depression and Elevate Mood

Walking the avenues of Japan’s major cities, one might notice an interesting phenomenon. Relative to a street in New York or Chicago, the citizens of Japan tend to smile more, laugh often and convey a sense of contentment. They suffer from many of our same woes: overburdened workloads, busy family lives, a rough economy. Yet happiness there is more tangible than many places in the United States, indeed more so than many destinations worldwide. This is likely due at least in part to a prevalent item in the Japanese diet – seafood.

Seafood lovers all across the globe now have even more reason to euphorically devour away. We already know that omega-3 fatty acids in seafood can help fight heart disease and cancer. It turns out that the super powers of seafood don’t stop there. Research has exposed and expanded upon an especially attractive health benefit of omega-3s – happiness. A diet rich with omega-3s significantly reduces the symptoms of depression while elevating mood, especially for women. Let’s put on our smiles and enjoy a happy life with many delectable seafood dishes!

Something to smile about

It’s hard to deny that food makes us happy. Whether it is satisfying a craving, making the taste buds sing, or just filling a growling stomach, eating food can be a very enjoyable experience. This feeling is not entirely just in our heads. Omega-3 fatty acids can actually elevate our mood and combat depressive symptoms on the metabolic level.

Depression is a serious illness from which 350 million people suffer. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide and contributes considerably to various diseases and can ultimately lead to suicide. Women are twice as likely to suffer from it than men. The World Heath Organization says cases of depression are on the rise globally.

There are already ways to battle depression in the form of psychotherapy and pills. But change is sorely needed – only a third of all people who take antidepressants actually notice an improvement. Countless people who suffer from depression don’t even seek treatment. The idea of taking antidepressant pills and sitting in psychiatrist’s chairs doesn’t hold appeal for some people who are enduring depressive symptoms. But what if there was a natural and much more delightful answer? The simple act of consuming seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids can remarkably help fight depression.

The science behind a natural antidepressant

The National Institute of Aging in Baltimore conducted an observational study of middle-aged African-American and Caucasian adults. By having the participants fill out an extensive survey, the study looked at omega-3 and omega-6 intake and the rate of self-reported symptoms of depression. The results for women were astounding; those who consumed higher levels of omega-3s – regardless of their omega-6 intake – had significantly lower risks of being depressed. Higher EPA and DHA intakes were also linked to elevated mood, depending on how much is consumed.

Other studies have found that a steady diet of omega-3s also reduced anxiety, improved sleeping patterns, and decreased thoughts of suicide. Insomnia and feelings of guilt and worthlessness also decreased significantly. The thought is that EPA – one of the long-chain forms of omega-3 – decreases inflammation in the human body and as a result we feel better overall, which may be the reason behind it’s ability to diminish depression.

This is actually not a new concept. A study conducted in 1998 showed that there is a strong correlation between consumption of seafood and depression prevalence in many different countries (see the above graph). The author of this study even suggested that omega-3s should be a required nutrient for treating depression and that the United States should strive to increase our intake to match that of residents of Japan. The average Japanese citizen consumes 145 pounds of fish annually, compared to the paltry 16 pounds eaten by the average American.

Increasing our seafood consumption by even just a little would reveal tremendous benefits for our bodies. By replacing two or three meals of less beneficial protein (such as red meat) a week with fish or shellfish, the average American could significantly boost omega-3 intake and reap the benefits of the essential fatty acids.

Seafood = happiness

The choice to consume seafood is not just a matter of taste or hunger. Science and common sense have shown us that seafood may be the answer to many of life’s woes. The essential fatty acids found in seafood can improve heart health, battle certain types of cancer, and combat depression. With so many benefits, it is imperative that people strive to eat seafood consistently.  We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to live a healthy lifestyle. So why not do it the delicious way?

6 thoughts on “Seafood Makes Us Happy – Omega-3s Have the Power to Fight Depression and Elevate Mood

  1. This article definitely confirms a personal experience that I’ve recently had. Over the holidays, I went to two seafood restaurants: Bubba Gumps and Red Lobster. I rarely, if ever eat fish but my parents love both restaurants and since they were in New York to visit me, I let them pick where they wanted to go. After the meals, I felt so happy and it seemed beyond simply seeing my family. I’ve known for sometime that seafood provides essential nutrients not often found in other foods so I began to do some research and learned about Omega 3. Although I can’t afford to go out to eat all of the time (nor can I cook very well), I’ve been buying and eating sardines and the difference in my energy level and mood have been astounding. Sardines are now something I eat everyday and I can hardly believe that I’ve gone for so long without a steady source of Omega 3. I feel like this article was written with me in mind and it’s cool to find out that there is scientific proof to confirm what I’ve been feeling lately.

    1. I’m so glad to hear your happy thoughts Darcy! Not only can we make and order so many delicious seafood dishes, but it is fantastic to know that they actually elevate mood. If everyone ate sardines once a day we would be a much more jubilant society. Keep up the happy diet!

  2. This is fascinating – and very encouraging – info. Thank you for taking the time to put this together!

    Regarding sardines, should we just be eating the ones that cone in cans, or is there a better way to purchase them?

    I’m trying to stay away from canned/processed food in general…

    1. Hi Al, thank you for your comment! That’s a great question. You’ll find that most of your sardine options are going to be canned, but they are usually minimally processed. You have options about the liquid they are packed in – olive oil is typically more nutritious than soybean oil; if you are concerned about fat intake there are sardines that are packed in water. Ask your local market if they ever offer fresh sardines, or know somewhere you can buy them. They tend to be very perishable, so they are not offered regularly. Sometimes you can find them frozen as well. I hope you find what you are looking for!

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