Wonder-drug fish oil can help protect the brain from chronic stress, new research suggests.
Researchers from John’s Hopkins University studied how effective fish oil supplements were in preventing the development of post-traumatic stress disorder in rescue workers involved in clean up after Japan’s catastrophic 2011 earthquake.
The findings revealed that omega-3 in fish oil supplements could help repair damage to the brain caused by traumatic events.
They also suggested that the supplements could help protect the brain from the negative effects of chronic stress.
For decades fish oil capsules have been marketed to improve brain health and even and prevent conditions such as multiple sclerosis and childhood allergies.
A growing body of research suggests that the supplement may be effective in treating chronic stress symptoms.
Ongoing stress results in a continuous activation of the brain’s nervous system, causing wear-and-tear throughout the body over time.
Many of the symptoms are similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder.
People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder have long claimed that fish oil curbed symptoms including depression, aggression, and anxiety.
Omega-3 was first linked to an improvement in PTSD symptoms in a 2005 study of ER patients who were put on a fish oil regimen directly after a traumatic accident.
The patients who received the fish oil were significantly less likely to develop PTSD in the months following the accident.
Omega-3 was found to boost the regeneration of neurons in the hippocampus and amygdala, the two areas of the brain most commonly associated with chronic stress and PTSD.
A few years later researchers in Japan conducted a similar study on rescue workers following the 2011 earthquake that killed nearly 16,000 people.
Once again, the fish oil appeared to have a reparative effect in the brain.
While promising, the evidence supporting the effectiveness of omega-3 for the treatment of severe stress in the general population has been limited because study samples are very narrow.
In the study published this month in the Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, the researchers from John’s Hopkins and the University of Tokyo set out to determine whether the results of previous studies, particularly 2011 one, could be generalized to the wider population.
They analyzed data from 172 of rescue workers who were given fish oil and compared it with the general population of nearly 11,000 Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) members.
The results revealed that female rescue workers who took the standard dose of fish oil scored significantly lower on the Impact Event Scale, which is widely used to assess people for PTSD.
Among men, the supplement was not found to have any significant impact.
The authors concluded that while their results indicate that fish oil could help treat PTSD in women, more research is needed to determine its effectiveness in the general population.
The findings may also have implications for everyday stress, which when chronic can lead to a variety of adverse health outcomes.
Up until a few decades ago, PTSD was thought to be a social ailment, but it is now known to be driven by biological and chemical processes in the brain.
When a person experiences a traumatic event, the brain releases stress hormone cortisol, which affects the transmission of glutamate, a neurotransmitter that plays a large role in memory, learning, and cognitive abilities.
Because the hippocampus houses many of the brain’s glutamate receptors, it is highly susceptible to getting overloaded when there is a substantial release of cortisol.
Omega-3 has been found to suppress the release of cortisol, protecting the hippocampus from damage that could lead to the development of PTSD.
Trauma can also alter the neurotransmitter circuit in the amygdala, resulting in the aggression and irritability often exhibited by PTSD suffers.
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