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Eat Seafood to Ease Stress?


Fish oils may promote greater resiliency under pressure

by Craig Weatherby

Past issues of Vital Choices have reported research findings on the positive role omega-3 fatty acids play in easing aggression and hostility. Now, a new pilot study confirms that the omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish such as salmon, sablefish, and sardines can help lower people's stress levels.

As the Australian researchers said, "Perceived stress in people, along with aggression and hostility, were significantly reduced after six weeks of taking fish oil supplements."

And, in an interesting overlap with the arthritis study reported in this issue, the olive oil capsules used as the placebo worked almost as well. It seems that fish oil and olive oil make a potent wellness pair!

Earlier studies indicated that fish oils reduced indicators of hostility and aggression, by modulating levels of proinflammatory cytokines or the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which is a key player in the body's “flight or fight” response to stress. However, this controlled clinical trial provides the first evidence that fish oil supplements may actually make people feel less stressed.

Fifty volunteers whose scores on psychological tests classified them as “moderately stressed” were split randomly into two groups. Members of one group were given six grams of fish oil a day (containing 1,500 mg of DHA and 360 mg of EPA) for six months, while the others received a placebo (i.e., ostensibly inactive) capsule containing olive oil. The participants' physiological stress levels were monitored, and questionnaires were used to gauge how stressed they felt during the study.  In the end, the stress measurements of both groups were compared to one another's and to those of a “non-treated” group.

Fish oil rises to the top

At the end of the study period, the participants' perceptions were evaluated using the standard Perceived Stress Scale.

The group taking the fish oil reported feeling much less stressed than did people in the non-treated group. The researchers said more study would be needed to determine the ideal anti-stress dose of omega-3s.

Interestingly, the olive oil group also experienced a marked, albeit lesser reduction in feelings of stress. The researchers surmised that olive oil exerts anti-stress actions beyond the expected placebo effect.

The results lend scientific support to our own time-tested belief that fish rich in omega-3s offer a delicious, drug-free way to ease the stresses of modern life.


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