Does Omega-3 Help With Anxiety?


Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions worldwide. Symptoms like excessive worry, panic attacks, and feeling tense or on edge can interfere with daily life. While medication and therapy help many, some seek natural remedies like omega-3 supplements to find relief. But can increasing omega-3s really help ease anxiety? Let's objectively examine the evidence.

What Causes Anxiety?

Before analyzing omega-3s, it helps to understand anxiety's underlying causes:

  • Brain chemistry - Anxiety involves areas like the prefrontal cortex and amygdala. Imbalances in neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and GABA may contribute.
  • Genetics - Having an immediate family member with anxiety increases risk. Certain gene variants affect neurotransmitter systems.
  • Environmental factors - Stressful life situations can trigger anxiety. Trauma and adverse childhood experiences also increase risk.
  • Medical conditions - Some illnesses and medications produce anxiety as a symptom. Substance withdrawal can also cause anxiety.

Does Omega-3 Help With Anxiety?

While not fully understood, anxiety likely arises from a combination of biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Finding the right mix of lifestyle changes, therapy, and medication helps manage symptoms. Now let's see if omega-3s could play a beneficial role.

Why Omega-3s for Anxiety?

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats with anti-inflammatory properties. The main types are:

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) - Found in plant sources like flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts.
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) - Both primarily from fatty fish and fish oil.

Omega-3s help regulate mood and cognition by:

  • Decreasing inflammatory cytokines that can impair mood and neural functioning.
  • Supporting neuron growth, repair, and transmission.
  • Improving communication between brain cell membranes.
  • Normalizing stress hormone levels and the body's stress response.
  • Enhancing serotonin and dopamine activity.

This neurological activity may help relieve anxiety symptoms. But what does the research show?

The Research on Omega-3s and Anxiety

A growing body of research suggests omega-3 supplementation may help reduce anxiety:

Clinical Anxiety Disorder Studies

  • A meta-analysis of 19 clinical trials found omega-3 supplements (mainly EPA) significantly decreased symptoms in those with diagnosed anxiety disorders.
  • Multiple randomized controlled trials show omega-3s reduced anxiety symptoms in patients with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, OCD, PTSD, and panic disorder.
  • A few studies find combining omega-3s with antidepressants improved anxiety symptoms more than medication alone.

Anxiety and Depression Studies

  • Several clinical trials demonstrate omega-3 supplements improved both anxiety and depression symptoms in patients with major depressive disorder.
  • Omega-3s improved mood and reduced anxiety scores in depressed substance abusers in recovery programs.

Healthy Population Studies

  • In medical students, daily omega-3 supplements lowered anxiety levels before medical exams versus placebo.
  • Omega-3 supplementation reduced stress and anxiety scores in healthy young adults under stressful conditions.
  • Pregnant women taking omega-3s had lower anxiety scores and a reduced risk of elevated anxiety.

Overall, research consistently shows anxiety-reducing effects from omega-3 supplementation, both in clinical populations and healthy adults.

Omega-3s Versus Anxiety Medications

Given omega-3s' potential anxiety-lowering effects, how do they compare to standard prescription medications for anxiety?


  • Both omega-3s and medications like SSRIs can increase serotonin activity and improve neurotransmitter balance.
  • They appear about equally effective for mild-to-moderate anxiety based on studies directly comparing them.


  • Medications work more quickly - usually within 6-8 weeks versus 8-12 weeks for omega-3s.
  • Medications like benzodiazepines have more potent anti-anxiety effects.
  • Omega-3s have minimal side effects compared to medications.
  • Omega-3s are available without a prescription and can be used long-term.
  • Omega-3s may enhance mood through additional anti-inflammatory effects.

For moderate-severe anxiety, medications tend to be first-line treatments. But omega-3s may complement prescriptions or benefit those with mild symptoms or who don't want to take medications.

Dosage: How Much Omega-3 for Anxiety?

Research studying doses for anxiety relief provides some guidance:

  • Doses ranged widely from 200mg EPA/DHA per day up to 6 grams per day.
  • Meta-analyses conclude doses over 2000 mg EPA/DHA daily have the most consistent significant effects.
  • Splitting the dose morning and night may help sustain stable blood levels.
  • Ratios of EPA to DHA around 2:1 appear optimal.
  • Benefits emerge after about 8-12 weeks of consistent supplementation.

Of course, discuss your specific dosage needs with a healthcare professional. But evidence indicates 2000+ mg EPA/DHA daily offers ideal anxiety relief.

Delivery Form: Supplements vs. Food Sources

There are two ways to increase omega-3 intake - consuming more omega-3-rich foods or taking supplements. Which is better for anxiety?

Food Sources

Foods with the most omega-3s include:

  • Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines
  • Chia seeds and flaxseeds
  • Walnuts
  • Fortified eggs, yogurts, milks

However, most studies demonstrating anxiety benefits used omega-3 supplements, likely due to the higher doses. Obtaining therapeutic amounts from food alone may be unrealistic for many.


Omega-3 supplements provide concentrated doses in a convenient form:

  • Fish oil - Provides EPA/DHA. Cod liver oil also contains vitamins A and D.
  • Krill oil - Has EPA/DHA bound to phospholipids for better absorption.
  • Algal oil - Vegetarian EPA/DHA extracted from algae.

Liquid capsules tend to offer quicker absorption. Discuss your preferred supplement and dosage with your doctor.

Omega-3s as Part of an Integrative Plan

While omega-3 supplementation shows promise for anxiety, it's just one piece of an effective treatment plan:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) - Helps identify and modify maladaptive thought patterns that drive anxiety.
  • Stress management - Relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, deep breathing counteract anxiety.
  • Exercise - Releases endorphins and neurotransmitters that regulate mood and stress.
  • Sleep hygiene - Getting enough high-quality sleep prevents compounding anxiety.
  • Social support - Close relationships buffer anxiety and provide accountability.
  • Balanced nutrition - A healthy diet supports stable mood and brain function.

Discuss comprehensive anxiety treatment strategies with your healthcare providers to find the right combination for you.


In summary, a growing body of research indicates supplemental omega-3s, especially EPA and DHA, may help reduce anxiety symptoms. Multiple clinical trials demonstrate anxiety-lowering benefits in those with diagnosed anxiety disorders and in healthy populations experiencing stress or anxiety-provoking situations. Compared to medication, omega-3s offer similar efficacy for milder anxiety with far fewer side effects.

For noticeable anxiety relief, aim for at least 2000 mg daily of combined EPA/DHA. Liquid omega-3 capsules provide convenient and potent dosing. Always discuss supplements with your doctor, especially if taking other medications or have underlying health conditions. While not a cure-all, optimizing omega-3 intake may be one nutritional strategy to include in an integrative anxiety management plan alongside therapy, meditation, exercise, social connection, and stress management practices. With this comprehensive approach, omega-3s could provide key support for keeping anxiety at bay.

Key Points

  • Omega-3s' effects on neurotransmitters, inflammation, and the stress response may alleviate anxiety symptoms.
  • Numerous studies demonstrate anxiety reductions from omega-3 supplementation in both clinical and healthy populations.
  • For anxiety, omega-3 doses over 2000 mg EPA/DHA daily appear most effective based on research.
  • Omega-3 supplements are likely required to get therapeutic dosages for anxiety relief.
  • Compared to medications, omega-3s have fewer side effects but may work more slowly.
  • Omega-3s can complement other anxiety treatments like therapy, meditation, exercise, and stress management.
  • Increasing omega-3 intake may be one component of an integrative plan to manage anxiety effectively.

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