The Nootropic Benefits of Fish Oil
You’ve probably heard about some of the health benefits of fish oil. Over the past 10-15 years, it has been the subject of numerous scientific studies and has received a lot of media attention. But did you know that fish oil may have nootropic benefits?
That’s what we’re going to explore in this post – the nootropic benefits of fish oil and the omega-3 fatty acids it contains. But first, let’s take a look at what exactly these fatty acids are and why they’ve become so popular over the past few years.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
These are unsaturated fatty acids the body uses for a number of biological functions. There are three omega-3s that the human body uses: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found in plant oils including walnuts, flaxseed oil, hemp oil, and several types of seeds. EPA and DHA are found in marine oils including fish oil and krill oil.
ALA is considered an essential fatty acid while EPA and DHA are not. This is because the body cannot make ALA on its own. But it can make EPA and DHA by synthesizing it from ALA. However, the amount of EPA and DHA that the body can make is usually small. That’s where fish oil supplementation comes in.
Fish oil contains high amounts of EPA and DHA. These omega-3 fatty acids are involved in a number of biological processes including metabolism, inflammatory response, and brain function. Supplementing with fish oil has been shown to have a number of health benefits – including nootropic benefits – which will be discussed in the next section.
The Nootropic Benefits of Fish Oil
Supplementing with fish oil has been shown to have a wide variety of benefits. It has been the subject of much scientific study and continues to be investigated by researchers. The two biologically-active omega-3 fatty acids that fish oil contains, EPA and DHA, have been shown to play a role in inflammation, brain health, and lipid metabolism. Here are just some of fish oil’s health benefits that researchers have studied:
- Improved mood (reduced symptoms of depression)
- Improved working memory
- Reduced anxiety
- Reduced inflammation
- Increased attention (reduced symptoms of ADHD)
- Reduced autoimmune symptoms (in patients with Lupus and other diseases)
- Lowered blood pressure
- Reduced triglycerides
These are just some of the potential health benefits of supplementing with fish oil that scientists have looked into, but there are others. Now let’s dive into some of the science that supports the use of fish oil for its nootropic benefits.
One of the nootropic benefits of fish oil that has been extensively studied is its ability to treat depression and impact mood. Dozens of different studies have explored its potential as a mood booster and depression reducer. While there have been some conflicting results, the majority of studies to look into this have shown fish oil to improve mood and reduce the symptoms of depression.
A 2019 meta-analysis (a scientific paper that uses statistical methods to examine the results of several studies) showed fish oil to have an overall beneficial effect on depression. This meta-analysis looked at 26 different studies which included over 2,000 participants altogether. It found fish oil supplementation to be an effective mood booster for people suffering from depression.
A meta-analysis from 2011 also showed that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids reduced the symptoms of depression. However, this one showed that fish oil’s mood-boosting effect was not from its total omega-3 content, but from one fatty acid in particular: EPA. This meta-analysis looked at 28 different studies and found that participants given EPA alone or combined with DHA had a reduction in depressive symptoms. Participants given either DHA alone or a placebo did not show any improvement.
After the above meta-analysis was published, researchers at Columbia University in New York wanted to do their own analysis to see if it would come to the same conclusion. They looked at 15 trials with almost 1,000 participants in total. The results of their meta-analysis revealed the same thing that the one above did: that EPA supplementation improved the symptoms of depression while DHA did not.
Overall there is a lot of evidence to suggest that omega-3 fatty acids, EPA in particular, can improve mood. Fish oil is high in both EPA and DHA and supplementing with it may help to ward off depression. To learn about some other substances that can improve mood, you may want to read this: The Best Nootropics For Mood.
There is some research to suggest that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may reduce anxiety. While this is an area that requires more study before anything conclusive can be stated, the results of the research that has been done is promising.
A study from 2011 looked at the effects of omega-3s on medical students. 68 students participated in the study and were either given omega-3s or a placebo for twelve weeks. The students that were given omega-3s showed a 20% reduction in anxiety while those given a placebo showed no difference. The participants given omega-3s also had lower levels of inflammation. Other studies have also shown omega-3s to reduce inflammation.
A study from 2005 also showed that omega-3 supplementation reduced anxiety. 49 participants were given either omega-3s or a placebo. The participants who received the omega-3s showed a reduction in anxiety, depression, fatigue, and anger.
A meta-analysis from 2018 showed that omega-3 supplementation may improve clinical anxiety. This meta-analysis looked at 19 different studies made up of over 2,000 participants. Researchers found that participants given omega-3 fatty acids showed a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms compared to those given placebo. While they state that more research is necessary before it can conclusively be said that omega-3s reduce anxiety, the results of this analysis are encouraging.
While more research is needed, it certainly seems like omega-3s are able to reduce anxiety. Several studies have shown omega-3 supplementation to cause a significant reduction in anxious symptoms. To learn about some other substances that can reduce anxiety, you may want to read this: The Best Nootropics For Anxiety.
Memory and Attention
There is also some evidence to suggest that supplementing with omega-3s can improve other aspects of cognition including memory and attention. In particular, researchers have looked at the effect omega-3s have on people with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
A meta-analysis from 2011 looked at the effect omega-3 supplementation had on children with ADHD. This analysis looked at 10 different studies involving almost 700 participants. The authors of this meta-analysis concluded that omega-3 supplementation is able to reduce the symptoms of ADHD. In particular, they state that high doses of EPA seem to be the most effective.
A study done in 2014 looked at the effect that omega-3 supplementation had on children diagnosed with ADHD. 95 participants were either given either omega-3s or a placebo for 16 weeks. The participants given omega-3s showed an improvement in working memory. However, there were no improvements to other aspects of ADHD.
Another study also showed that omega-3 supplementation improved working memory. 13 healthy participants were given omega-3 supplements for six months. They were administered a number of tests before starting the omega-3s and after. The results showed that taking omega-3s increased working memory.
As you can see, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that omega-3 supplementation can improve memory and attention in both health individuals and those diagnosed with ADHD and other conditions. However, more research is needed before these claims can be made conclusively. If you’d like to learn more about nootropics that can improve memory, you can read this: The Best Nootropics For Memory.
Safety & Dosage
Fish oil supplementation seems to be very safe for most people when taken within normal ranges. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends taking at least 1 gram of fish oil daily.14 The AHA also states that it is safe to take up to 3 grams of fish oil a day.
This recommendation is well within the established guidelines for safe fish oil use. A scientific paper published in 2012 showed that doses of up to 5 grams of combined EPA and DHA did not raise safety concerns for adults.
Since fish oil is known to inhibit platelets from binding together, people on blood thinners are often discouraged from using them. However, a 2014 study found that taking fish oil while on blood thinners did not increase the risk of bleeding. To the contrary, it found that patients taking fish oil in addition to blood thinners had improved clinical outcomes.
A meta-analysis from 2017 came to a similar conclusion. The analysis looked at 52 studies and concluded that there’s no reason to discontinue taking fish oil before having surgery or other invasive procedures.
Fish oil and other omega-3 supplements are generally regarded as safe (GRAS). However, there are a few minor side effects that can occur so some people. They are not serious and should go away quickly after discontinuing supplementation. Some relatively common but minor fish oil side effects may include:
- Bad breath
- A fishy aftertaste
- Loose stools
Other less-common minor side effects may include the following gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms:
Most of these side effects are uncommon and can be reduced by taking fish oil with a small meal or snack. Another option is to buy enteric-coated fish oil capsules. These are special capsules that are designed to break down in the intestines instead of the stomach. This eliminated most or all of the side effects of fish oil supplementation.
While there are dozens, maybe hundreds of fish oil products on the market, my personal favorite is one called Omega-3 Fish Oil by a company called Sports Research (or SR for short). This product has the perfect blend of EPA and DHA. And unlike other omega-3 supplements, it’s all packed into one capsule. With most fish oil supplements, you need to take 2-3 capsules to get one serving. With this product, you only have to take one. Now you see why I like it so much!
With such an impressive list of benefits, it’s no wonder why fish oil and omega-3s have become so popular over the past decade. The list of potential benefits include improved mood, reduced anxiety, increased memory and focus, and decrease inflammation, among others. And in addition to fish oil’s benefits, it also has an excellent safety profile.
Fish oil is something that I’ve been taking for years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Even though I try to eat salmon and other omega-3-rich fish at least once or twice a week, it’s not enough to get the DHA and EPA my body and brain needs for optimal cognitive functioning. By supplementing with fish oil, I’m making sure that I get enough of these brain-boosting fatty acids.
Do you take fish oil or another daily omega-3 supplement? How long have you been taking it? Have you noticed any cognition-enhancing benefits? Please leave your answers in the comments section at the bottom of the page.