The two main omega-3 fatty acids are docoshexaenoic acid, or DHA, and eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA. Both of these fatty acids are involved in cell membrane support and lowering inflammation in the body. In addition, EPA and DHA may also have a positive effect on levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Omega-3s can be found in foods such as salmon, walnuts, soybeans and halibut and in supplement form as fish oil.
In times of stress, the body releases the hormone cortisol to prepare for a fight-or-flight response. Cortisol increases glucose concentration in the blood and boosts substances that repair tissues. Although stress is part of everyday life, too much stress can lead to overexposure to cortisol, which can cause several health problems, including obesity, heart disease, depression and sleep problems, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Scientists at Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran studied the impact of EPA on cortisol levels in patients with major depressive disorder. Participants received 1 gram of EPA alone or in combination with 20 milligrams of fluoxetine, an antidepressant, for eight weeks. Cortisol levels were measured before and after treatment. At the end of the study, which was published in the June 2010 issue of “Psychiatry Research,” the researchers found that EPA alone and in combination with fluoxetine reduced cortisol levels.
Researchers at Hopital de la Cavale Blanche in France investigated the effects of fish oil, which contains EPA and DHA, on mental stress in men. Subjects received 7.2 grams of fish oil daily for three weeks and then underwent a mental stress. Scientists found that fish oil significantly reduce cortisol levels after the mental stress test. The findings were reported in the June 2003 issue of “Diabetes Metabolism.”
EPA and DHA may interact with certain medications, including blood-thinning medications and anticoagulants, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Consult your health-care provider before taking omega-3 supplements.
- Mayo Clinic; Stress Management; September 2010
- "Psychiatry of Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Fluoxetine on Plasma Cortisol, Serum Interleukin-1 Beta and Interleukin-6 Concentrations in Patients With Major Depressive Disorder; S. Jazayeri, et al.; June 2010
- "Diabetes Metabolism"; Fish Oil Prevents the Adrenal Activation Elicited by Mental Stress in Healthy Men; J. Delarue, et al.; June 2003
- Linus Pauling Institute; Essential Fatty Acids; April 2009