Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting signals between brain nerve cells. While nutritionists and the medical community have long been aware of the relationship between diet and physical health, research now suggests a relationship between impaired mental health and a diet lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in the oils of cold-water fish like salmon, herring or cod, and dopamine products.
Parkinson’s disease occurs when neurotransmitter cells in the substantia nigra section of the brain die and stop producing dopamine. In a 2008 study appearing in the “FASEB Journal,” researchers noted that mice given an omega-3 rich diet appeared immune to the effect of MPTP, a toxic compound that causes the same damage to the brain as Parkinson's. Mice fed an ordinary diet limited in omega-3 developed Parkinson’s symptoms after MPTP exposure and experienced a 50 percent decrease in dopamine levels. The results suggest a link between a DHA deficiency, a type of fatty acid found in omega-3, and Parkinson’s disease onset. Furthermore, the study results warrant further research in to the benefits of omega-3 and fish oil for preventing and treating this disease.
The Criminal Mind
Too much omega-6 may alter the reward processes in the brain controlled by dopamine, according to NIH Psychiatrist Joseph Hibbeln, and as a result, lead to violent behavior. Hibbeln’s studies of omega-3 and omega-6 and brain functioning are documented in the UK’s October 16, 2006 edition of "The Guardian," where he theorizes that as omega-6 goes up in a linear progression, so do homicides.
The work of Bernard Gesch, a senior researcher at Stein's Oxford laboratory, on Aylesbury prison inmates, seems to back up Hibbeln’s theory. Published in the 2002 “British Journal of Psychiatry,” Gesch’s results showed that prisoners receiving a diet with extra nutrients including omega-3s committed 37 percent fewer serious offenses involving violence and 26 percent fewer offenses overall than those prisoners taking placebos.
The effects of a fish oil diet and dopamine was studied in rats by a group of researchers led by Sylvie Chalon at the Laboratoire de Biophysique Medicale et Pharmaceutique in Tours, France. Published in the 2002 “Journal of Nutrition,” the dopamine levels in those rats fed a diet rich in fish oil was 40 percent greater than those who did not receive the diet.
Fish Oil Alternatives
Eat more shellfish, poultry, wild game and avocado if you want to increase your dopamine levels but do not feel like eating fish regularly. These foods also contain omega-3 fatty acids, although not in the same amounts as fish oils. If you prefer a non-food alternative, buy a fish oil supplement in pill form from any store that sells vitamins.