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Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2007;16 Suppl 1:391-7.

Omega 3 fatty acids and the brain: review of studies in depression.

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  • 1School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Victoria 3125, Australia.


The brain is a lipid-rich organ containing mostly complex polar phospholipids, sphingolipids, gangliosides and cholesterol. These lipids are involved in the structure and function of cell membranes in the brain. The glycerophospholipids in the brain contain a high proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) derived from the essential fatty acids, linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. The main PUFA in the brain are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, all cis 4,7,10,13,16,19-22:6) derived from the omega 3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid, and arachidonic acid (AA, all cis 5,8,11,14-20:4) and docosatetraenoic acid (all cis 7,10,13,16-22:4), both derived from the omega 6 fatty acid, linoleic acid. Experimental studies in animals have shown that diets lacking omega 3 PUFA lead to substantial disturbances in neural function, which in most circumstances can be restored by the inclusion of omega 3 PUFA in the diet. In the past 10 years there has been an emerging interest in treating neuropsychological disorders (depression and schizophrenia) with omega 3 PUFA. This paper discusses the clinical studies conducted in the area of depression and omega 3 PUFA and the possible mechanisms of action of these PUFA. It is clear from the literature that DHA is involved in a variety of processes in neural cells and that its role is far more complex than simply influencing cell membrane properties.

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