Get special offers, recipes, health news, PLUS our FREE seafood cooking guide!
Got it, thanks! Click here for your FREE seafood cooking guide & recipes e-booklet.
Food, Health, and Eco-news
Omega-3s Linked to Lower Teen Anxiety
Fish fat might ease teen anxiety around social and family life or school 04/05/2014 By Craig Weatherby
Anxiety disorders afflict almost one in five American adults … with more women affected than men. 

Combined, all anxiety disorders cost upwards of $42 billion a year in health care, including people who seek relief for anxiety symptoms that mimic physical ailments. 

The types include social anxiety disorder (15 million cases), generalized anxiety (6.8 million cases), obsessive-compulsive disorder (2.2 million cases), panic disorder (6 million cases), post-traumatic stress disorder (7.7 million cases, with many related to rape). 

Social anxiety disorder or SAD is the most common type, occurs about equally among men and women, and typically begins around age 13. 

The number of SAD sufferers is probably greater than the official 15 million number, because more than one-third of affected people go 10 years or more before seeking help. 

Adolescents appear especially vulnerable to SAD, with more than one in four teens aged 13 to 18 affected, and almost six percent suffering severe SAD (NIMH 2011). 

Why would teens be especially prone to social or other kinds of anxiety?

The brain circuitry involved in emotional responses changes during the teen years.

And brain imaging studies suggest that – compared with younger children or adults – teenagers have stronger responses to emotionally loaded images and situations (NIMH 2011).

Omega-3s may ease depression … what about anxiety?
Many population studies link low blood levels of seafood-type omega-3s – and high levels of omega-6 vegetable-oil fats – with risk of depression.

Unfortunately, this generally unhealthful “omega imbalance” typifies the average American's diet and blood fat profile. 

Clinical trials testing omega-3 fish oil supplements against depression have had mixed results, but this may be due to the fact that researchers have used various mixes of omega-3s (EPA and DHA) at various doses, in patients with varying degrees of depression.

Overall, as the American Psychiatric Association concluded in 2006, the evidence is encouraging … see “Top Psych Panel Says Omega-3s Deter Depression, Bipolar Disorder.” 

Given the very close connections between depression and anxiety, many researchers suspect that omega-3s hold the potential to ease or allay anxiety … and preliminary studies support this idea.

Anxiety patients tend to have lower omega-3 blood levels, while omega-3 fish oil supplements can quiet a brain system linked to anxiety, and seems to ameliorate some symptoms (Ross BM 2009).

And according to a recent evidence review, omega-3s help protect the brain's neurotransmission (communication) system from damage induced by stress, “possibly preventing the development of stress-related disorders such as depression or anxiety” (Hennebelle M et al. 2014).

Clinical evidence remains scant, but the signs are promising … for example, see “Fish Alleviates Women's Anxiety”, “Omega-3s Axed Anxiety” and “Feeling Anxious? Fish and Fish Oil May Help

BDNF: A key factor in mood health?
Brain researchers are deeply interested in a protein thought to play a key role in mood control, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

Dozens of animal studies show that omega-3-rich diets raise brain levels of BDNF, aid brain “plasticity” and resilience, and reduce stress and fear.

We've reported on some of that evidence that omega-3s , in part because they tend to boost levels of BDNF and other helpful chemicals … see “Alzheimer's Drug Apes Omega-3s and Berries”.

(As we've reported, the polyphenol-type “antioxidants” in other foods – including extra virgin olive oilcurcumin from turmericberriesdark chocolate, and natural, non-alkalized cocoa – also appear to boost brain levels BDNF and/or other brain-function factors linked to better brain “plasticity” and resilience.)

Several studies have linked anxiety-related conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder to low blood levels of BDNF. 

And preliminary clinical research suggests that omega-3s regulate brain levels of BDNF in ways that may help prevent and treat anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (Matsuoka Y et al. 2011).

Now, a Brazilian study offers more evidence that omega-3s support healthy levels of BDNF, which in turn supports brain functions key to mood health.

Their findings come from an especially (and perhaps increasingly) anxiety-prone group … adolescents.

Brazilian study links higher omega-3 intakes to lower anxiety
The new clinical study comes from neuroscientists at Brazil's University of Rio Grande do Sul. 

The Brazilians wanted to see whether higher intakes of omega-3s by teens were linked to their blood levels of BDNF.

They recruited 137 adolescents (88 female) with an average age of 14, who took a standard test for anxiety.

Teens scoring at all levels on the test were equally represented in the sample – no to very low, mild, moderate, and severe anxiety.

Blood samples were collected and blood BDNF levels were measured, while intakes of omega-3s were estimated using a diet questionnaire designed for adolescents.

The researchers' analysis showed a significant statistical link between higher omega-3 intakes and higher blood BDNF levels. 

There were limitations to the reliability of the results. As they wrote, “Our study was limited by its small sample size, and our external validity may be restricted by the oversampling [unusually high percent] of anxious adolescents.”

Does this study prove that omega-3s ease anxiety in adolescents?

No, but it seems significant, given the link between low BDNF levels and depression, which is very closely related to and often accompanies anxiety.

And it seems to represent a good reason to conduct more clinical research … sooner rather than later.

  • Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA). Facts & Statistics. Accessed at
  • Bach SA, de Siqueira LV, Müller AP, Oses JP, Quatrim A, Emanuelli T, Vinadé L, Souza DO, Moreira JD. Dietary omega-3 deficiency reduces BDNF content and activation NMDA receptor and Fyn in dorsal hippocampus: Implications on persistence of long-term memory in rats. Nutr Neurosci. 2013 Nov 26. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Bousquet M, Gibrat C, Saint-Pierre M, Julien C, Calon F, Cicchetti F. Modulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor as a potential neuroprotective mechanism of action of omega-3 fatty acids in a parkinsonian animal model. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2009 Nov 13;33(8):1401-8. Epub 2009 Jul 24. 
  • Bredemeier K, Beevers CG, McGeary JE. Serotonin transporter and BDNF polymorphisms interact to predict trait worry. Anxiety Stress Coping. 2014 Mar 31. [Epub ahead of print] Calderon F, Kim HY. Docosahexaenoic acid promotes neurite growth in hippocampal neurons. J Neurochem. 2004;90(4):979-988. 
  • Cao W, Duan J, Wang X, Zhong X, Hu Z, Huang F, Wang H, Zhang J, Li F, Zhang J, Luo X, Li CQ. Early enriched environment induces an increased conversion of proBDNF to BDNF in the adult rat's hippocampus. Behav Brain Res. 2014 May 15;265:76-83. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2014.02.022. Epub 2014 Feb 22.
  • Cardoso HD, Santos Junior EF, de Santana DF, Gonçalves-Pimentel C, Angelim MK, Isaac AR, Lagranha CJ, Guedes RC, Beltrão EI, Morya E, Rodrigues MC, Andrade-da-Costa BL. Omega-3 deficiency and neurodegeneration in the substantia nigra: Involvement of increased nitric oxide production and reduced BDNF expression. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2013 Dec 20;1840(6):1902-1912. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagen.2013.12.023. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Chou D, Huang CC, Hsu KS. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor in the amygdala mediates susceptibility to fear conditioning. Exp Neurol. 2014 Feb 25;255C:19-29. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2014.02.016. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Cysneiros RM, Ferrari D, Arida RM, Terra VC, de Almeida AC, Cavalheiro EA, Scorza FA. Qualitative analysis of hippocampal plastic changes in rats with epilepsy supplemented with oral omega-3 fatty acids. Epilepsy Behav. 2010 Jan;17(1):33-8. Epub 2009 Dec 6.
  • Ferreira CF, Bernardi JR, Bosa VL, Schuch I, Goldani MZ, Kapczinski F, Salum GA, Dalmaz C, Manfro GG, Silveira PP. Correlation between n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids consumption and BDNF peripheral levels in adolescents. Lipids Health Dis. 2014 Mar 5;13:44. doi: 10.1186/1476-511X-13-44.
  • Ferreira CF, Bernardi JR, Krolow R, Arcego DM, Fries GR, de Aguiar BW, Senter G, Kapczinski FP, Silveira PP, Dalmaz C. Vulnerability to dietary n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid deficiency after exposure to early stress in rats. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2013 Jun;107:11-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2013.03.006. Epub 2013 Mar 26.
  • Hashimoto M, Inoue T, Katakura M, Tanabe Y, Hossain S, Tsuchikura S, Shido O. Prescription n-3 fatty acids, but not eicosapentaenoic acid alone, improve reference memory-related learning ability by increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels in SHR.Cg-Lepr(cp)/NDmcr rats, a metabolic syndrome model. Neurochem Res. 2013 Oct;38(10):2124-35. doi: 10.1007/s11064-013-1121-1. Epub 2013 Aug 21. 
  • Hennebelle M, Champeil-Potokar G, Lavialle M, Vancassel S, Denis I. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and chronic stress-induced modulations of glutamatergic neurotransmission in the hippocampus. Nutr Rev. 2014 Feb;72(2):99-112. doi: 10.1111/nure.12088. Epub 2014 Jan 13.
  • Huang Z, Zhong XM, Li ZY, Feng CR, Pan AJ, Mao QQ. Curcumin reverses corticosterone-induced depressive-like behavior and decrease in brain BDNF levels in rats. Neurosci Lett. 2011 Apr 15;493(3):145-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2011.02.030. Epub 2011 Feb 18.
  • Hurley LL, Akinfiresoye L, Nwulia E, Kamiya A, Kulkarni AA, Tizabi Y.Antidepressant-like effects of curcumin in WKY rat model of depression is associated with an increase in hippocampal BDNF. Behav Brain Res. 2013 Feb 15;239:27-30. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2012.10.049. Epub 2012 Nov 8.
  • Jiang LH, Yan S, Wang J, Liang QY. Oral administration of docosahexaenoic acid activates the GDNF-MAPK-CERB pathway in hippocampus of natural aged rat. Pharm Biol. 2013 Sep;51(9):1188-95. doi: 10.3109/13880209.2013.784341. Epub 2013 Jun 14.
  • Kapczinski F, Frey BN, Kauer-Sant'Anna M, Grassi-Oliveira R: Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and neuroplasticity in bipolar disorder. Expert Rev Neurother. 2008 Jul;8(7):1101-13. doi: 10.1586/14737175.8.7.1101. Review
  • Kauer-Sant'Anna M, Kapczinski F, Andreazza AC, Bond DJ, Lam RW, Young LT, Yatham LN: Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and inflammatory markers in patients with early- vs. late-stage bipolar disorder. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2009 May;12(4):447-58. doi: 10.1017/S1461145708009310. Epub 2008 Sep 4. 
  • Levant B. N-3 (omega-3) polyunsaturated Fatty acids in the pathophysiology and treatment of depression: pre-clinical evidence. CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets. 2013 Jun;12(4):450-9. Review.
  • Logan AC. Omega-3 and BDNF regulation: eicosapentaenoic acid may play a key role in limitation of CNS injury. J Neurotrauma. 2008 Dec;25(12):1499. No abstract available. 
  • Matsuoka Y, Nishi D, Nakajima S, Yonemoto N, Hashimoto K, Noguchi H, Homma M, Otomo Y, Kim Y. The Tachikawa cohort of motor vehicle accident study investigating psychological distress: design, methods and cohort profiles. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 2009, 44:341. 
  • Matsuoka Y, Nishi D, Yonemoto N, Hamazaki K, Hamazaki T, Hashimoto K. Potential role of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in omega-3 Fatty Acid supplementation to prevent posttraumatic distress after accidental injury: an open-label pilot study. Psychother Psychosom. 2011;80(5):310-2. doi: 10.1159/000322980. Epub 2011 Jun 30. 
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Any Anxiety Disorder Among Children - 2011. Accessed at 
  • O'Keefe LM, Doran SJ, Mwilambwe-Tshilobo L, Conti LH, Venna VR, McCullough LD. Social isolation after stroke leads to depressive-like behavior and decreased BDNF levels in mice. Behav Brain Res. 2014 Mar 1;260:162-70. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2013.10.047. Epub 2013 Nov 5. 
  • Park H, Poo MM: Neurotrophin regulation of neural circuit development and function. Nat Rev Neurosci 2013, 14:7–23. 
  • Pudell C, Vicente BA, Delattre AM, Carabelli B, Mori MA, Suchecki D, Machado RB, Zanata SM, Visentainer JV, de Oliveira Santos Junior O, Lima MM, Ferraz AC. Fish oil improves anxiety-like, depressive-like and cognitive behaviors in olfactory bulbectomised rats. Eur J Neurosci. 2014 Jan;39(2):266-74. doi: 10.1111/ejn.12406. Epub 2013 Nov 6. 
  • Rao JS, Ertley RN, Lee HJ, DeMar JC Jr, Arnold JT, Rapoport SI, Bazinet RP. n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid deprivation in rats decreases frontal cortex BDNF via a p38 MAPK-dependent mechanism. Mol Psychiatry. 2007 Jan;12(1):36-46. Epub 2006 Sep 19. 
  • Rathod R, Khaire A, Kemse N, Kale A, Joshi S. Maternal omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on vitamin B12 rich diet improves brain omega-3 fatty acids, neurotrophins and cognition in the Wistar rat offspring. Brain Dev. 2014 Jan 10. pii: S0387-7604(13)00350-1. doi: 10.1016/j.braindev.2013.12.007. [Epub ahead of print] 
  • Ross BM. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and anxiety disorders. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2009 Nov-Dec;81(5-6):309-12. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2009.10.004. Epub 2009 Nov 10. Review. 
  • Sable P, Kale A, Joshi A, Joshi S. Maternal micronutrient imbalance alters gene expression of BDNF, NGF, TrkB and CREB in the offspring brain at an adult age. Int J Dev Neurosci. 2014 May;34:24-32. doi: 10.1016/j.ijdevneu.2014.01.003. Epub 2014 Jan 22. 
  • Sable PS, Kale AA, Joshi SR. Prenatal omega 3 fatty acid supplementation to a micronutrient imbalanced diet protects brain neurotrophins in both the cortex and hippocampus in the adult rat offspring. Metabolism. 2013 Nov;62(11):1607-22. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2013.06.002. Epub 2013 Jul 9. 
  • Shimizu E, Hashimoto K, Okamura N, Koike K, Komatsu N, Kumakiri C, Nakazato M, Watanabe H, Shinoda N, Okada S, Iyo M: Alterations of serum levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in depressed patients with or without antidepressants.Psychiatry 2003, 54:70–75. 
  • Williams CM, El Mohsen MA, Vauzour D, Rendeiro C, Butler LT, Ellis JA, Whiteman M, Spencer JP. Blueberry-induced changes in spatial working memory correlate with changes in hippocampal CREB phosphorylation and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels. Free Radic Biol Med. 2008 Aug 1;45(3):295-305. Epub 2008 May 5. 
  • Wu A, Ying Z, Gomez-Pinilla F. Dietary omega-3 fatty acids normalize BDNF levels, reduce oxidative damage, and counteract learning disability after traumatic brain injury in rats. J Neurotrauma. 2004;21(10):1457-1467. 
  • Xu Y, Ku B, Tie L, Yao H, Jiang W, Ma X, Li X. Curcumin reverses the effects of chronic stress on behavior, the HPA axis, BDNF expression and phosphorylation of CREB. Brain Res. 2006 Nov 29;1122(1):56-64. Epub 2006 Oct 3.