Volume 10, Issue 6

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Page 24 | Abby's Magazine | If asked to identify the things in our lives that irritate or "stress us out", most of us could come up with a pretty comprehensive list. What helps determine whether these stressors lead us down a path potentially linked to poor mental health, cognitive decline, and chronic disease is how effectively we are able to manage them. Sadly, operating from a "stressed-out" state of mind has become part of the norm in American culture. According to the most recent Global State of Emotions report, a whopping 55% of American respondents reported having experienced a significant amount of stress within the last day, compared to the global average of 35%. Indeed, roughly 40 million adult Americans are believed to struggle with anxiety every year. Because chronic stress is linked to numerous adverse health outcomes, finding effective stress-management strategies and ways to neutralize the ill-effects of stress are of the utmost importance. In this article, we discuss how chronic stress can increase the production of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, and how these changes negatively affect omega-3 status. We also look at how omega-3 fatty acids may influence the fight or flight response—another key player in the body's response to stress. DO PEOPLE WITH HIGH LEVELS OF STRESS HAVE LOWER OMEGA-3 LEVELS? To analyze the correlation between stress and omega-3 fatty acid levels, researchers have primarily studied individuals with stress-related disorders, such as anxiety and depression. However, it stands to reason that the physiological relationship between stress and omega-3 levels in people with stress- related conditions could be reflective of what's happening in healthy individuals that experience high amounts of perceived stress, such as work or financial stress. In a study recently conducted in the Netherlands, researchers examined the omega-3 fatty acids levels and stress biomarkers of over 2,700 people suffering from stress-related conditions. They found that lower omega-3 levels were associated with higher levels of cortisol, increased heart rate, and higher levels of acute-phase proteins (proteins that help ramp-up the body's flight or fight response, and are associated with the body's inflammatory response). Because this was an observational study whether low omega-3 levels contributed to these adverse biological and psychological changes, or whether poor mood stability led to lower omega-3 levels could not be inferred. However, scientists have suggested that a "vicious cycle" exists, where a low omega-3 status may increase Does Stress Deplete Omega-3 Fatty Acids? By Adin Smith, MS stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline – which in turn would cause decreases in omega-3s. WHY MIGHT STRESS LEAD TO REDUCTIONS IN OMEGA-3S? Human and animal research shows that severe stress caused by life-event triggers such as divorce, loss of a job, sleep deprivation, or social isolation increases oxidative stress (similar to the rusting that happens in pipes from oxidation). Oxidative stress can damage many different types of cells and substances in the body, including the omega-3 fatty acids. This is particularly concerning for omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is the most prominent fatty acid in the brain, and more susceptible to oxidative stress than certain other fatty acids. As a result, the cells in the brain that contain higher amounts of DHA are more likely to become damaged. Notably, DHA-rich membranes are responsible for cellular communication in the brain, so if the DHA content embedded in the membranes get attacked, serotonin, dopamine, and other critical neurotransmitters involved in mood and brain function could become compromised. Increased oxidative stress that occurs outside of the brain can also damage and deplete omega-3 fatty acids. Adrenaline and cortisol are well- known substances that get released from the adrenal gland during a stressful event. Once adrenaline or cortisol interacts with the body's fat cells, the omega-3 fatty acids stored within those cells get released into the blood. So why is this important? The benefit of omega-3 fatty acids getting pushed into the blood is that it gives the body the additional energy it needs for fight or flight responses. However, the downside is that omega-3 fatty acids released from the body's fat stores are more vulnerable to oxidative damage. In other words, by prioritizing its immediate needs for survival over its long-term needs for cellular health, this is the body's way of saying "I don't care about damaging and depleting my omega-3s – I need to use them for fuel when I feel threatened!" Because higher cortisol output is involved in the release of omega-3s

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