Omega-3 Levels in Blood Associated with Mood, Personality, and Behavior

December 10, 2007


Serum n-3 Fatty Acids are Associated with Variation in Mood, Personality and Behavior in Hypercholesterolemic Community Volunteers
Conklin SM et al., Psychiatry Research 152:1-10 (2007).
Cardiovascular Behavioral Medicine Postdoctoral Training Program, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Department of Psychiatry, Brown University, Providence, RI


There is a considerable evidence-based published literature to provide support for an association between low dietary intakes of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and various psychological and behavioral disorders. Since plasma levels of the omega-3 fatty acids are considered to be reliable biomarkers for omega-3 fatty acid intakes via the diet, the present ‘cross-sectional’ investigation was performed. The research group determined the levels of the individual omega-3 fatty acids in the blood serum lipid of 105 community volunteers with elevated blood cholesterol levels who were otherwise healthy and who had a mean age of 54 years. The omega-3 fatty acids measured included DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and LNA (alpha-linolenic acid). The participants were assessed by the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), the NEO Five Factor Personality Inventory (NEO-FFI), and the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS).

Analysis of the data indicated that higher levels of the longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) were associated with a overall reduced risk of scoring ≥ 10 on the BDI. Furthermore, higher levels of DHA and EPA were correlated with lower scores for ‘neuroticism’; also, higher levels of DHA were associated with better scoring for ‘agreeableness’. For the BIS assessment, higher levels of DHA were associated with lessened cognitive impulsivity; also, higher levels of LNA were related to lower tendencies towards motor and total impulsivity. It is noteworthy that the BIS assessment estimates control of thoughts and behavior such as acts without thinking and ‘spur of the moment decisions’. The authors conclude that the higher physiological status (based on the blood level measurements) of omega-3 fatty acids appears associated with normative variability in mood, personality and impulsiveness.

Dr. Holub's Comments:

The present results are of considerable interest and suggest that blood measurements of various omega-3 fatty acids may potentially be used in assessing the risk for variations in mood, personality, and behavior in some population sectors. However, it needs to be recognized that the present publication is based on ‘cross—sectional’ data and does not provide a direct causal association. Thus, future randomized controlled clinical trials using differing doses of DHA/EPA and ratios thereof would be of considerable interest to determine if high intakes of omega-3 fatty acids may have favorable outcomes on mood, personality, and behavior. Common recommendations for higher fish intakes (containing DHA/EPA) for the prevention of coronary heart disease may yield added benefits with respect to psychological and behavioral parameters in the population.

Return to Mental Health Research