Does Fish Oil Help With Anxiety? (What You Need to Know)

Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD
Published by Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD | Medical Doctor
Last updated: June 21, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Dr. Kristy Dayanan, BS, MD
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When you go for a job interview or are about to give a speech, anxiety is there to make you doubt yourself.

What if you choke? Are you appropriately dressed? How will others perceive you?

Questions like these are what make people fearful. However, there’s another question I’ve spent hours researching, and that’s whether or not fish oil can help reduce anxiety.

Read on to learn more about the effects of fish oil on mental health.

Quick Summary

  • Fish oil, rich in omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA, is effective in reducing anxiety and improving mental health.
  • The anti-inflammatory properties of fish oil also contribute to heart health and the reduction of depression symptoms.
  • Clinical trials have shown a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms with the use of fish oil supplements.
  • Personally, I find the potential of fish oil in mental health management both fascinating and promising, especially considering its natural origin.

Is Fish Oil Good For Anxiety and Mental Health?

fish oil capsules in a sachet

As a doctor who has seen the effects of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, I've observed their benefits in treating conditions like major depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder.

According to clinical trials published by JAMA Network Open, fatty acids found in fish oil result in a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms [1].

In addition, researchers found that a diet rich with high levels of fish oil supplements may significantly reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Neuroinflammation, or the inflammation of nervous tissue, is a key factor in anxiety and depression. Fish oil, rich in anti-inflammatory properties, helps protect brain tissues and reduce inflammation. It also influences mood-regulating hormones like dopamine and serotonin, aiding in relaxation.

Omega-3 fatty acids, a major component of the brain, are crucial for mental health. Low levels are linked to various mental issues, but supplementing with fish oil has shown significant improvements in reducing anxiety and mental blocks.

Recent studies published in PsychCentral highlight the significant role of fish oil's omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, in essential brain functions such as glucose utilization and neurotransmission, suggesting that regular intake of fish oil could enhance memory, learning capabilities, and potentially alleviate symptoms of anxiety [2].

Emerging research points to the intriguing connection between fish oil supplementation and gut microbiota, emphasizing the role of DHA and EPA in potentially easing anxiety through the modulation of the gut-brain axis, a critical pathway for mental health [2].

Beyond its potential impact on anxiety, fish oil's omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with a wider spectrum of mental health benefits, showing a correlation between low omega-3 intake and conditions such as ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, depression, and suicidal tendencies, underscoring the importance of these fatty acids in overall mental well-being.

What Does Fish Oil Contain?

salmon fish, oil and seeds in a table

Fish oil is a rich source of two key omega-3 fatty acids: DHA and EPA, both known for their extensive health benefits.

These are primarily found in fatty fish like sardines, trout, mackerel, and salmon, and are also available in supplements like capsules or tablets.

Additionally, a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid, ALA, is found in foods like chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans, and canola oil.

Fish oil also contains considerable amounts of Vitamin A and D, which boost the body’s immune system.

The Food and Drug Administration(FDA) suggests limiting the intake of oily fish to two servings per week. This is because oily fish contains a considerable concentration of mercury, which is harmful in large amounts. 

Omega-3 supplements, processed to remove toxins like mercury, are generally safe and side-effect-free at proper dosages.

If you're on medications, especially blood thinners or blood pressure drugs, it's wise to consult a healthcare professional before taking omega-3 supplements to avoid any interactions.

3 Main Benefits of Taking Fish Oil Supplements

toy heart held by a person's hand

Fish oil has numerous benefits for the human body, with lots of them listed below.

1. Improving Heart Health

According to a systematic review by the American Heart Association, fish oil can minimize the effects of heart disease [3].

Fish oil contains unsaturated fatty acids, which help elevate high-density lipoproteins (HDL), aka ‘good cholesterol’ levels, and minimize blood pressure. Other benefits for heart health include preventing heart attacks and regulating heartbeats per minute.

2. Mental Health Management

puzzle pieces in paper head silhouette

From my experience in treating patients, I've seen how fish oil, rich in omega-3s like EPA and DHA, plays a vital role in brain health and managing mental health issues.

Its role in managing depression and anxiety is significant, as low omega-3 levels are often associated with these and other mental health conditions.

“Suggest that taking fish oil supplements is beneficial in the treatment of depression when compared with placebo, and the data suggest that the best outcomes occur when the fish oil is used as an adjunct to standard antidepressant therapies.”

- Mansoor D. Burhani, Physiology & Biophysics Researcher

Besides aiding depressed individuals with depression, fish oils can also help reduce symptoms of other psychiatric conditions such as:

  • Clinical anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Dementia
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Although studies have confirmed the contribution of fish oil in managing cognitive health issues, more research is necessary to determine its significance as a stand-alone treatment.

3. Reduce Inflammation

Fish oil's anti-inflammatory properties can combat chronic inflammation, a contributor to conditions like diabetes, obesity, and depression.

It's also beneficial in alleviating rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, including joint inflammation and stiffness.

4 Most Common Anxiety Symptoms

Anxiety is a neurological disorder that can be difficult to understand. Symptoms typically revolve around a fear of future expectations or ‘what could possibly go wrong.’

Common indicators of anxiousness include:

1. A Feeling of Extreme Worry

man holding his head in worry while reading a paper

In my practice, I've seen patients who experience extreme worry about daily situations, a common symptom of anxiety.

For people who suffer from anxiety, however, this worry is taken to an extreme.

As a result, extreme overreactions to the triggering event occur, which in most cases is disproportionate to the amount of danger or risk involved.

Extreme worry can be categorized as anxiousness if you:

  1. Experience feelings of worry regularly for at least six months and/or
  2. Have extreme difficulty in trying to control your fears

2. Agitation and Panic Attacks

woman seated on bed hugging herself

In treating anxiety patients, I've observed how their nervous system overreacts, causing symptoms like elevated heart rate and sweaty palms.

That occurs because the brain interprets a particular situation as a threat, triggering the ‘fight or flight’ response to prepare for what it believes will happen next.

These effects include an elevated heart rate, dry mouth, sweaty palms, and shaking.

While these effects are crucial in an actual life-threatening situation, they can be overwhelming when the threat is simply in one’s head.

In circumstances where these symptoms are taken to an extreme, the individual truly believes their life is on the line, categorized as a full-blown panic attack.

3. Difficulty Concentrating

woman with both her hands on her head in panic

Many of my patients with anxiety struggle to concentrate, a common challenge during anxiety episodes.

Research published in PubMed Central suggests that anxiety affects the brain's working memory, making it very difficult to dedicate attention to any task [4].

As a result, people who suffer from anxiousness often experience a decline in cognitive performance, as their brains focus on the fear of the future.

4. Restlessness

man worrying while leaning towards a wall

In my clinical experience, restlessness and a constant feeling of being 'on edge' are frequent in anxiety sufferers.

This restlessness results from the brain interpreting danger in the environment, influencing the individual to seek refuge or move to a safer location.

As a result, another common symptom that can indicate anxiousness is someone who experiences frequent restlessness - especially over prolonged periods of time


How Much Fish Oil Should I Take for Anxiety?

According to studies, the optimal omega-3 dose ranges between 300 mg to 3,000 mg per day.

How effective the fish oil depends on EPA and DHA concentration. In most cases, liquid fish oil is more concentrated with omega-3s compared to capsules.

Does Fish Oil Help With Panic Attacks?

Daily doses of fish oil with an omega-3 concentration above 2,000 mg can help reduce panic attacks.

It is due to the fatty acids present in fish oil, which help keep the brain in an optimal functioning state.

What Vitamins Help With Anxiety?

Natural vitamins such as Vitamin B-12, Vitamin C, and Vitamin D can help manage anxiety and promote overall cognitive health.

These vitamins contain anti-anxiety properties and play a vital role in treating cognitive health issues.

How Long Does It Take for Fish Oil to Work?

On average, it can take between 1-6 months before any significant changes can be seen.


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About The Author

Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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