More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Low Omega-3, cholesterol linked to self-harm, impulsiveness and depression

Lower levels of essential fatty acids and cholesterol in the body are associated with self-harm, impulsiveness and depression, a new study has found.

The aims of the study, published in the February 2007 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, were to determine whether people who self-harm also have low levels of essential fatty acids (EFAs); and to examine associations between EFAs and the brain chemical serotonin.

A link between low cholesterol levels in the blood and a recent act of self-harm is well established. Low levels of serotonin are also known to be present in people who attempt suicide, and are frequently linked to impulsive and self-destructive behaviors.

Low levels of omega-3 (n-3) EFAs and cholesterol are risk factors for impulsive and depressive behaviors. The n-3 EFAs are concentrated in the brain, but are obtained exclusively from food - particularly seafood and fish.

In this study, depression, impulsiveness and suicidal intent were measured in 40 patients who had self-harmed attending Galway University Hospital accident and emergency unit, and in a matched control group, recruited from the medical day ward.

Levels of cholesterol, n-3 and n-6 EFAs in the blood were also measured in both groups, as was serotonin in a sub-group of patients. (n-6 EFAs are mainly derived from vegetable oils).

Exclusion criteria included eating fish more than once a week, current psychiatric diagnoses of addiction, psychotic disorders or eating disorders, and other factors known to affect cholesterol, n-3 EFAs and serotonin.

It was found that patients who had self-harmed had significantly higher levels of suicidal intent, depression and impulsiveness than controls. Patients also had a lower average cholesterol level (4.18 v 4.87), and lower average EFA levels (89.5 v 103.7).

Total n-3 and n-6 EFAs were also significantly lower in the patient group.

Impulsiveness and depression scores were higher among those with lower n-6 and n-3 EFAs, but were not associated with total cholesterol levels. Serotonin measures did not differ between the groups, and were not related to psychological problems.

The authors of the study comment that they consider that cholesterol is acting as a 'marker' for EFA levels, and is not the primary source of the problem in patients who self-harm.

The differences in EFAs between the two groups were unlikely to be due to diet alone, they say. Malnutrition in the perinatal period causes learning problems in rats, and similar effects have been seen in bottle-fed v breast-fed children (breast milk is a richer source of EFAs).

Stress has been shown to reduce EFAs in rat studies, and stress - a prelude to self-harm - can lead to changes in diet, such as a switch from fatty and protein-rich foods to foods high in carbohydrates. This could alter levels of both cholesterol and EFAs.

Research on EFAs and psychiatric disorder has found that lower levels of fish consumption are associated with higher levels of depression.

The authors of the study conclude that the association between self-harm and lowered cholesterol reflects the similar finding linking lower levels of EFAs to impulsive and violent behaviour. There is mounting evidence that EFA deficits are present in a number of psychiatric disorders, they say.

Garland MR, Hallahan B, McNamara M, Carney PA, et al. Lipids and essential fatty acids in patients presenting with self-harm. Br J Psychiatry 2007 190: 112-117. [Abstract]


mmmmmmm how interesting!

I can not have fish due to allergies and I stear away from Omega-3 incase the allergies are from that.

But still how very interesting as always :)


David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
I don't think you can be allergic to omega-3, Heather. There are many sources of omega-3 other than fish and supplements that are not derived from fish oils:

Walnuts, flaxseeds, beans, fish, olive oil and winter squash constitute part of the cornucopia of foods that will provide you with concentrated sources of omega 3 fats.

Eating fish and seafood such as salmon, halibut, tuna and scallops a few times a week is an easy way to increase your omega 3 intake. Plus you'll get all of the other nutritional benefits that these foods have to offer.
As noted, walnuts and flaxseeds can be important contributors to an omega 3 rich diet. To increase your intake of these foods, adding this nut-seed combination to salads, baked potatoes or granola are just three of the many ways to easily incorporate these foods into your meal plan. Additionally, if you grind nut butters at home, they could also be used in the above ratio as a nut-seed blend. (Although it is somewhat difficult to clean, a standard coffee bean grinder usually does fairly well as a nut-seed grinder than can produce a very creamy buttery blend.) If you like your nuts roasted, do so gently - in a 160-170 degree oven for 15-20 minutes - to preserve the omega-3 fats.
In addition, incorporating more beans, winter squash, and extra virgin olive oil to your meal plan is easy. And features on our website will make it even easier. Visit the "How to Use" sections in the articles on each of the particular foods to learn about delicious quick serving tips. Using our Recipe Assistant can also help you to find recipes that feature these omega 3-rich foods.

Other omega-3 sources:

Almonds, dry roasted
Flax seeds
Pecans, dry roasted
Pistachios, roasted
Poppy seeds
Pumpkin seeds, shelled
Sesame seeds

Walnut oil
Soybean oil, unhydrogenated
Flax seed oil
Canola oil
Cod liver oil
Olive oil
Sardine oil

Soybeans, dried, cooked
Tofu, regular

Spinach, fresh, cooked
Green leaf lettuce, fresh, raw
Red leaf lettuce, fresh, raw
Boston or Bibb lettuce, fresh, raw
Chard, cooked
Turnip greens, cooked
Dandelion greens, cooked
Kale, cooked
Beet greens, cooked
Collard greens, cooked
Mustard greens, fresh, cooked​


I saw some Omega 3 bread in the supermarket today! My befriender and I were laughing about it, as she'd seen an advert on TV for it a mother gave her son a fish every day for lunch at school...until she found the Omega 3 bread.
Yes. A non-breast fed-baby here. Depressed, some self harm, sometimes impulsive.
I do try to eat fish regularly now though. I think it maybe makes a slight difference. I was fully veggie for 9 years until a couple of years ago, when I felt my body needed fish. [I also have white meat occasionally]
Replying is not possible. This forum is only available as an archive.