Neurobehavioral Effects of Consuming Dietary Fatty Acids

Biol Res Nurs. 2016 Oct;18(5):573-81. doi: 10.1177/1099800416657638. Epub 2016 Jul 13.


Background: Research results on the neurobehavioral effects of consuming dietary fatty acids are mixed. Therefore, this study examined the effects of consuming dietary fatty acids on depression, mood, and anxiety.

Methods: In this randomized crossover-design study, 37 university students served as their own controls, consuming each of the following diets for a 4-day period with a 2-week washout period between diets: (1) low fatty acid, (2) high saturated fatty acid (SFA), (3) high polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), and (4) control. The order of sessions was counterbalanced across dietary groups. Following consumption of each diet, participants were examined for within-subject differences in depression, mood, and anxiety. Measures included weighed dietary fat intakes, Zung's Self-Rating Anxiety and Depression Scales, and the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule.

Results: Participants had significantly higher positive affect scores (p < .007) and were significantly less irritable (p < .04) when they consumed diets rich in SFAs and PUFAs than when they consumed a low fatty acid or control diet. However, depression, anxiety, and negative affect scores did not differ significantly among diets. Analysis of participants' serum lipid levels following their intake of the fatty acid and control diets indicated significantly higher levels of total cholesterol (p = .006) and serum triglycerides (p = .003) with the control diet.

Conclusions: These results highlight the neurobehavioral benefits of consuming dietary fatty acids among healthy individuals. By concentrating on the positive effects of diet on affective processes, health professionals can also provide support for at-risk individuals.

Keywords: anxiety; depression; fatty acids; mood.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cholesterol / blood*
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Dietary Fats / adverse effects*
  • Fatty Acids / adverse effects*
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / adverse effects*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced*


  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Cholesterol