Study finds most Americans low in omega-3 fatty acids, could impact mood

By Danielle Masterson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images /  ed chechine
Getty Images / ed chechine

Related tags: Omega-3 fatty acid, Depression, cardiovascular health, Pharmavite

New research has found that over 68% of adults and 95% of children in the United States do not consume enough omega-3s to meet nutritional needs based on the US Dietary Guidelines.

Research conducted by Pharmavite, the makers of Nature Made vitamins and supplements, has found that the vast majority of Americans do not get adequate amounts of EPA, DPA or DHA in their daily diets. 

Omega-3 deficiency can impact heart health, vision, inflammatory conditions and some reports suggest mental health. 

Growing research has found that the food we eat impacts how we feel emotionally, with some  individuals using food-mood interventions to improve their mood. 


The cross-sectional study, published in BMJ Open​, analyzed US population data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2011-2012—the most recent survey that made this information available—to determine serum (blood) biomarker reference ranges of circulating long chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA, DPA, and DHA. 

The researchers examined the proportion of the US population demonstrating an omega-3 nutrient gap, with serum omega-3 concentrations below US Dietary Guideline Recommendations and below levels associated with a decrease in cardiovascular risk.

"Low serum levels confirm that omega-3 fatty acid intakes fall short for most Americans, particularly young children, and it reveals that more work is needed in educating the public about the important role EPA, DPA, and DHA play in supporting human health," ​said Susan Mitmesser, PhD, VP, Science & Technology, Pharmavite. "Healthy habits formed early in development inform and pave a healthy path later in life, so it's critical that in addition to sleep and physical activity, young children have access to foods rich in essential nutrients including omega-3s."

Additional key findings from the study

  • Despite the large body of research indicating the benefits of omega 3s, especially EPA and DHA, regular dietary intake of omega-3s remains low in the US population across all life stages. Low serum concentrations of EPA, DHA, and the sum of all omega-3 fatty acids were seen across all life stages.
  • Based on life stages, gender and demographic factors, the populations found to have particularly low EPA and/or DHA serum concentrations include children ages 2-5 years, adult males, and Mexican American/Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black individuals.

According to Pharmavite, supportive but not conclusive research indicates that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. 

Good mood food 

There's also growing research that suggests omega-3s may play an even greater role than previously thought in supporting other areas of human health,  particularly in regards to supporting a healthy mood.

Earlier this year, a separate study​ conducted by Pharmavite evaluated the relationship between depression and the levels of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) in the circulatory system (based on analysis of NHANES 2011-2012). Analysis of the data revealed that adults with higher omega-3 fatty acid levels correlated with lower risk of depression and for adults with higher EPA there was correlation with lower risk of impact of depression on daily life.


The mechanisms of action for omega-3 fatty acid’s effect on depression are not entirely understood. One hypothesis is that omega-3s easily travel through the brain cell membrane, thus interacting with mood-related molecules within the brain. They also have anti-inflammatory actions that may play a role in relieving depression.

According to Harvard Health, over 30 clinical trials have tested different omega-3 preparations in people with depression. Most studies have used omega-3s as add-on therapy for people who are taking prescription antidepressants with little or no benefit. Fewer studies have examined omega-3 therapy alone. 

While omega-3s are promising natural treatments for mood disorders, researchers note that more studies are needed in order to make any conclusive recommendations. 


Source: BMJ Open

2021;11:e043301. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-043301

“Long-chain omega-3 fatty acid serum concentrations across life stages in the USA: an analysis of NHANES 2011–2012”

Authors: R Murphy  et al.

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