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.