Study to Examine Omega-3 Deficiency, Teenage Depression Link

Photo: Australian research professor Dr. Margaret Morris and Australasian Research Institute director Dr. Ross Grant say low levels of omega-3 could contribute to teenage depression. Previous studies have suggested the fatty acid found in fish and other dietary sources is necessary for normal brain function. [photo: courtesy SAH][January 22, 2008] Sydney , Australia Elizabeth Lechleitner/Adventist News Network

Whether low omega-3 levels trigger the doldrums is the focus of a new joint research project between the Sydney Adventist Hospital-based Australasian Research Institute and the University of New South Wales.

Studies touting omega-3 as the holy grail of health are hardly new -- the fatty acid found in fish, walnuts and flax seed has long been cited to lessen health risks ranging from stroke to psoriasis.

With the project, "How Food Affects Mood," researchers say they hope to buoy most recent research that suggests low levels of omega-3 in the diet correlate with equally abysmal moods, particularly in teenagers.

"Research now indicates a link between a person's brain chemistry and their risk of developing depression or a psychological illness," says ARI director Dr. Ross Grant. Normal brain activity depends on communication between cells, and there's reason to believe that low omega-3 levels block synapse back-and-forth, he adds.

A deficiency of essential fatty acids such as omega-3 is even thought to deform brain cell membranes, leading to cerebral dysfunctions that can include depression, autism, dyslexia and eating disorders, Grant says.

Grant and Dr. Margaret Morris of the School of Pharmacology at UNSW say the study is timely and hope its results will curb "sobering" statistics -- 28 percent of young people suffer from a major depressive disorder by age 19 and depression is the leading cause of both suicide and substance abuse, according to Australian researchers.

Researchers will study the DNA samples and dietary questionnaires of 500 15- to 19-year-olds to examine the relationships between depression, anxiety, obesity and brain cell communication.

Early results of the study are expected to be released next year. The study is funded by the Novus Foundation, the Rotary Club of Wahroonga and Sydney-based businessman Phil McCarroll, and supported by the Australian Ministry of Education, Science and Training.