Essential Fatty Acids and Depression

"In 1621, the life's work of scholar Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy  was printed (Burton, 1907). Its subject was depression, seemingly one without mass appeal, before our modern age of rampant mental illness and self-absorption (and resultant self-help guides). Despite that, Samuel Johnson, author of A Dictionary of the English Language, called it a "valuable book" of "great spirit and great power".
... Burton's (1907) treatise examined the subject of depression exhaustively and suggested legion cures. Paramount amount them were herbs, such as cannabis and specific foods. He suggested a diet rich in brains as one cure for depression, but also servings of fish and borage." (p. 80)

Eaton and his colleagues have examined in detailed fashion the manner in which early humans lived, in a book titled The Paleolithic Prescription, and in a series of articles with similar themes...
Although culinary mores and nutritional content have changed over the ages, our genetic attributes have not. One may postulate that our genes today reflect the same basic design for living as those of our Paleolithic ancestors, including our dietary requirements. For them, caloric intake was about equally divided between plant and game sources. Their meat was five times richer in polyunsaturated fat then modern supplies, especially in eicosapentanoic and docosahexanoic acids, which are essentially absent in contemporary beef supplies (Eaton and Konner, 1985). Before the agricultural revolution, grains and starch were scarce commodities, and vegetables in the Paleolithic diet were relatively richer in protein and, especially, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)." (pp. 82-83)

"Mantzioris and colleagues (1994) demonstrated experimentally that flaxseed (linseed) oil, the richest known souce of the n-3 EFA linoleic acid, when added to the diet, increased levels of eicosapentanoic acid significantly. This result is important because, although EPA is a component of fish and game meats, it is not present in vegetable matter. EPA promotes formation of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, while inhibiting AA formation and subsequent inflammatory prostaglandin E-2 synthesis (Wagner and Nootbaar-Wagner, 1997).
Smith (1991) advanced a theory that excessive secretion of monokines by macrophages is a, or the, cause of human depression. This might explain the association of depression with coronary disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other diseases. It was posited that the low incidence of depression in Japan related to suppressive effects on macrophages of EPA in the fish-rich diet of that country. " (p. 85)

"Hibbeln and Salem (1995) reviewed the subject of PUFAs and depression in detail, noting many salient features. As mentioned, inadequate n-3 fatty acid intake has been implicated as etiologic for both coronary disease and depression. It follows that the two might be comorbid conditions. In fact, this is the case, and to a remarkable degree (p<0.0000001)." (p. 87)

"It is clear from the previous discussion that a compelling arguments can be made that modern diets are deficient in n-3 PUFAs. It is certainly arguable that this is the reason for the explosive incidence of depression in modern cultures. Certainly, an increase in fish intake would be advisable...
Unfortunately, fish stocks around the world are already depleted, through a combination of overfishing, wasteful netting techniques and industrial pollution. Aquaculture may represent a partial solution, although environmental concerns remain apparent in that industry...
More germane to this volume would be the issue of whether an herbal nutritional solution to depression treatment is possible... Flaxseed oil is extremely perishable once it is pressed and it is considered unpalatable by many (Conrad, 1997; Wirtshafter, 1997). Cognoscenti of flaxseed supplementation frequently recommend that fresh seed be ground before each use, or the purchased flaxseed oil be kept frozen.
Other alternatives exist. Hemp seeds have been human fodder since ancient times and were one of the seven basic grains of the early Chinese culture (Li, 1974). Hemp seeds represent the single most complete food on the planet, with its 35 percent oil content. The latter is the most unsaturated of the world's known vegetable oils, and almost exactly fits the 3:1 ratio of n-6:n-3 fatty acids." (pp. 90- 91)

- excerpts from Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) in Handbook of Psychotropic Herbs: A Scientific Analysis of Herbal Remedies for Psychiatric Conditions by Ethan Russo, MD (2001)

Hemp Seeds