This past week I was feeling a little blue with no good reason.
I mean, I have a lot in my head the same as anyone else, i.e., family, financial, career, etc. but life is good. Besides, I have a week off from the office which should make life even better.
I dare to say I had a mild form of depression until yesterday morning.
How do I know I was Depressed?
For the last week I have been sleeping 9 hours, every day, and still feeling tired. That never happens to me. I have gotten up and been dragging all day. My “staycation”to-do list for the week was untouched.
How do I know I was depressed?
It turns out that mild depression, also known as dysthymia, lasts for about two years based on what I read here. And that’s not me.
But when I look at the symptoms, I could check “yes” to nearly everything:
• Poor appetite or overeating ( I overate)
• Sleep disturbances (maybe not this )
• Low energy or fatigue (yes)
• Low self-esteem (yes, I think so)
• Poor concentration (yes)
• Feelings of hopelessness (yes)
Then I started thinking – what’s different?
My usual eating habits are a bit out-of-whack – eating way more starches than I am used to, perhaps causing overproduction of insulin which then can cause one to crash. But the insulin resistance depressive type of symptoms should only last two to three hours, not a whole week.
I have not taken my supplements for two weeks. Particularly, vitamin D and fish oils.
On Thursday night I popped three fish oils, which contain 500IU of vitamin D each, then three Friday morning, three at night and three this morning.
By this morning I was a new man.
Now I admit, the benefits of feeling out of my rut by taking fish oils with vitamin D could have been a coincidence. The placebo effect could have been in action here as well where I could have thought my way to feeling better from taking these nutrients ( which I would not mind).
The science geek in me could not accept my positive mental effects from consuming this fish/oil vitamin D combination could be placebo though.
It turns out that both, vitamin D and fish oils have been scientifically linked to depression.
Studies linking Vitamin D, Omega-3 fatty acids and Depression
One study highlighted in the Scientific Daily showed that when women with moderate to severe depression lifted there blood vitamin D levels to 32ng/ml to 38ng/ml (from 9ng/ml to 14ng/ml), they felt better.
Another research meta-analysis, systemic review trial (this is a study of studies) looked at close to 32,000 subjects and found that those with lower vitamin D levels had higher rates of depression. (Anglin et al. 2013)
Lastly, one of the worlds leading experts on vitamin D, Dr. Michael Holick, pointed to a connection with vitamin D and depression (and schizophrenia) on this paper on the New England Journal of Medicine.
OK, the vitamin D connection to depression is great, but how about the fish connection to depression?
First lets (briefly) discuss what a fish oil is;
Fish oils are a type of fat called omega-3 fatty acids. There are three major types of omega-3 fatty acids, ALA, DHA, EPA (will save you the un-pronounceable words of these this time). Hang with me here with this alphabet soup.
ALA, found in foods like chia seeds and flax seeds are converted in the body to EPA and DHA by an enzyme call Delta-6-desaturase. The problem is that this enzyme can only convert no higher than 20% of ALA to EPA and DHA. (Gerster; 1998)
Here’s the deal though, the benefits of depression from omega-3 fatty acids are mostly from DHA with EPA.
While DHA has shown beneficial effects on brain function, it seems to work synergistically with EPA.
Another meta-analysis study showed a beneficial effect from major depressive disorder, MDD, (not mild depression or dysthymia) with the use of DHA with EPA. (Mocking et al., 2016)
MDD is a whole different ball of wax. People suffering from MDD often have suicidal thoughts. If this is you, please seek professional help. Now.
Finally, the Cochrane Database Systematic Report, a very conservative, hardcore library of meta-analysis and systematic review articles, “suggest a small-to-modest, non-clinically beneficial effect of n-3PUFAs on depressive symptomology compared to placebo.”
I would consider this conclusion plausible considering the conservative nature of Cochrane reports, though not compelling for the intake of fish oils when feeling down and out.
- I feel back to being myself. Thank God. Although, I also feel like I wasted a good portion of my “staycation.” ☹
- Vitamin D levels tank during the winter. I think mine did as I have had very little outdoor activity lately – temperature outside is near or at zero degrees Fahrenheit.
- Your doctor should measure your vitamin D levels in the form of 25-hydroxyvitamin D.
- Blood levels of 25-hydroxy-vitamin D less than 20 ng/ml is considered deficient and less than 30 ng/ml is insufficient. Optimal levels are between 40 to 60ng /ml. More is not better.
- Vitamin D consumed in pill form should be taken with food that contains fat, or taken with a fish oil (fat) for better absorption. That’s why I consume this high-quality fish oil which contains 500mg a pill.
- Fish oils contain mostly EPA and DHA and need not be converted, so you get more EPA and DHA from fish oils than foods high in ALA.
- Eating fish can likely help with depression as well beyond just its DHA content according to this study.
Lastly, depression is a complicated disease, and I don’t want to oversimplify its pathology or treatment with a pill, fish oils or vitamin D.
Other nutrients like tryptophan, tyrosine, and vitamin c also help. Plus, every case is different and some cases might require aggressive treatment with meds.
Some people are just feeling blue. Others feel blue for a longer time (two years) which can then be considered Dysthymia. And others have severe, manic depression. Each needs to be treated differently.
For the rest of us dealing with these cold winter blues, consider taking vitamin D and fish oils and see how you feel.