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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

What is Docosahexaenoic acid and Why You Need to Know

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 1st 2010

dhaIt has been called the molecule that led to bigger brains in humans and the lack of it in our systems leads to depression, bipolar disorder, memory loss, schizophrenia and ADHD. There's a lot of talk over Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in Omega 3 fatty acids and how our overconsumption of its counterpart Omega 6 is leading to obesity in our country.

Omega 6 fatty acids are in many nuts, but also foods made with cheap vegetable oil and the more we consume, the more we hunger for them. In a recent article in The Economist, research is reported that is important for us to be aware of in considering our mental and physical health.

Dr Hibbeln is a researcher at the National Institute of Health (NIH). In one study he fed rats diets where in one group the rats received 8% of their diet in linoleic acid (Omega 6) and in the other it was 1%. The former is more equivalent to the average American's diet.

The rats that received 8% of Omega 6 experienced double the obesity as the other group. Why? Omega 6 is converted in rats and humans into a molecule called endocannabanoids that trigger appetite. You might take notice of the root of this molecule being connected to cannabis or marijuana - hence, "the munchies."

In general, Omega 6 foods are a lot cheaper than Omega 3 foods and so people eat more Omega 6. Some people say that ratio is about 10 to 1 or 30 to 1 depending on who you're talking to.

Now, Omega 6 fatty acid is not bad for us, it's just the excess amount that we eat that is.   

What's important for us here is to be mindful of what we're eating and how it may affect our food cravings and mood in daily life. Our feelings of hunger may not come from a need for food, but may be based on the brain chemistry that's at work as a result of prior food we have eaten.  The same goes for feeling depressed or anxious; perhaps it's important to look at the diet.

In other words, nutrition is not all about feeding the body; it's also about feeding the mind. If we eat foods that are not good for the body, I promise they're likely not good for the mind too.

Diet is a key intervention when we're trying to move through difficult times of anxiety, depression, mania and even addictive behaviors.

How does your diet affect you? Please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    How My Diet Affects Me - jc - Jun 2nd 2010

    For me, food consumption is ironic, because what I can have complete control over renders me powerless.  Well, at least sometimes.  Two years ago, I followed a healthy but strict diet for 3 months and lost 25 pounds, leaving me at an ideal, healthy weight.  I felt great - energetic, fit, mentally sharp, in control.  Trouble is, old habits still lingered and here I am again, exactly the weight I was when I began dieting.  Perhaps the food chemistry was right with the diet, and I did continue taking Flax oil (with Omega 3).  I also think the rigidity of the diet was very easy for me.  Once I ate all the foods and all my check marks were filled in, I was done eating for the day and that was that.  Not so easy long term. I eat when I am anxious and am anxious when I eat.  I agree that what I eat matters, because my viscious circle begins when I want to eat something I know I shouldn't. Comments are welcome.

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