Food and Behaviour Research

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Omega-3 fatty acids and anxiety: A systematic review of the possible mechanisms at play

Polokowski AR, Shakil H, Carmichael CL, Reigada LC (2018) Nutr Neurosci.  2018 Sep 28: 1-11. doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2018.1525092. [Epub ahead of print] 

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Anxiety is prevalent, costly, and associated with significant adverse outcomes. The importance of nutrition is underestimated in the management of mental health disorders. In particular, omega-3 fatty acids (ω-3 FAs) are a critical component for healthy development and have been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms.


This paper reviews the current state of the research to identify potential mechanisms underlying the relationship between ω-3 FAs and anxiety reduction.


Studies were identified using PubMed, PsycINFO, and CINAHL databases.


Of the 197 full-text studies screened, six met criteria for inclusion. Four mechanisms were identified based on primary outcomes reported by each study, Inflammatory Response, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), Cortisol, and Cardiovascular Activity.


Five key recommendations are provided to guide future research examining ω-3 FAs and anxiety. They include: (1) standardization of dosage and duration of ω-3 supplementation, (2) more rigorous measurement of variables, (3) effective blinding of participants, (4) designing experiments that test mediation, and (5) increasing sample diversity.


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