There’s Something Fishy About Stress and Depression
Dwayne N. Jackson, PhD
Antioxidants are molecules that blunt oxidative stress. They are produced by the body and consumed in diets rich with fruits and vegetables. In a perfect world, there should always be a balance between oxidative stress and antioxidant levels in the body; however, any imbalance in favor of oxidants (due to environmental/psychological stressors, diets with limited fruits and vegetables, or heavy training) can lead to a state of elevated oxidative stress. In humans, unbalance between reactive oxygen species production and endogenous antioxidants is involved in the generation/progression of more than a hundred pathologic conditions!
Did you know that the high metabolic activity of the brain makes it susceptible to oxidative stress and neuronal damage? That’s right, chronic psychological stress and depression promote increases in oxidative stress throughout the body, including the brain—which may lead to a snowball effect—making depressive symptoms even worse.
The omega3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are considered essential because we must get them from the diet. Fish oil contains high levels of EPA and DHA and provides serious protection against oxidative stress; this, combined with data that Omega-3 fatty acids are found in high abundance in the brain, has sparked interest the relationship between Omega-3 fatty acids and depressive disorders.
A recent study published in The Journal of Nutrition tested the blood levels of DHA and EPA (omega-3 index) and biomarkers of oxidative stress in a population of men and women who were susceptible to depression. It was concluded that subjects who had high levels of oxidative stress, had an inverse relationship between omega-3 index and depressive symptoms. Simply put, subjects that consumed the most omega-3 fatty acids, were the least depressed.
ACTION POINT: If you train hard, follow a restricted diet, and are subjected to mental stress, you may want to consider taking a high-quality omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Look for products that have high levels of EPA and DHA, and take approximately 3000 mg of combined EPA and DHA daily. For best absorption separate into 3 doses and take with meals.
Bigornia SJ, Harris WS, Falcón LM, Ordovás JM, Lai CQ, Tucker KL. The Omega-3 Index Is Inversely Associated with Depressive Symptoms among Individuals with Elevated Oxidative Stress Biomarkers. J Nutr. 2016 Apr;146(4):758-66.
Carnosine is produced in skeletal muscle from beta-alanine and histidine, where beta-alanine is the rate limiting. When beta-alanine is available in surplus (i.e., supplemented) it elevates the body’s muscle carnosine levels. In fact, in past studies, it has been shown that dietary supplementation of beta-alanine for only 4-weeks can increase muscle carnosine levels by more than 60%.
The proposed mechanism by which high muscle carnosine levels aid in muscle function and performance is through its ability to potently buffer skeletal muscle pH (acidity) during high-intensity/fatiguing exercise. Since one of the primary causes of fatigue during exercise is metabolically mediated decreases in pH (or acidosis), then it makes sense why increased intramuscular carnosine levels would be beneficial to strength athletes.
Recent work published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition sought to determine if beta-alanine supplementation would improve the adaptive response to a 5-week resistance training program. Subjects took 6.4 g of beta-alanine or placebo daily (split into 8 x 800 mg doses) and trained 3-times per week. Significant training improvements were observed, where those who took beta-alanine had approximately twice (2x) the improvement in average power at 1 rep maximum (1RM) and at maximum power, compared to those who received the placebo. It was concluded that beta-alanine’s improvements in exercise performance were due to increases maximal strength gain and exercise volume (number of sets completed) with beta-alanine supplementation.
ACTION POINT: If you are interested in boosting strength, power, and training volume, give beta-alanine a try. Performance benefits can be achieved with as little as 1.6 g per day, but it will take a little longer for muscle carnosine levels to peak. Take up to 6.4 g per day, but split this into 4-8 servings— with 1 serving taken 30-60 minutes pre-workout and another immediately postworkout. Beta-Alanine is safe to take in moderate doses; however high single doses (>800 mg) have been shown to cause harmless tingling/numbness (paresthesia) in hands and skin that disappear within an hour of ingesting.
José Luis Maté-Muñoz, et al. Effects of β-alanine supplementation during a 5-week strength training program: a randomized, controlled study. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2018 15:19, epub ahead of print.