Would you pay £300 for a simple bottle of fermented, salted fish sauce? The ancient Romans once did—it was known as Garum.1 Archaeologists have discovered Garum factories in ancient Spain, Portugal and Northern Africa. Southeast Asian cooking is renowned for its distinctive, nutritious fish sauces.
Modern science suggests there is a reason—beyond flavour—that certain fish sauces were so prized. Fish sauce may be food for a healthy brain. Research into a nutraceutical preparation called Garum Armoricum® (GA) suggests exactly this. Studies shows that GA improves stress, sleep quality, markedly reduces anxiety, enhances memory and mental clarity, and may be as calming as prescription anxiolytics, without the side effects.6
The active components appear to work synergistically to provide potent anxiolytic and antidepressant-like effects.
This fish hydrolysate is distilled from a giant blue fish found off the Armorican Peninsula off France. It was first discovered by the ancient Celts, and used to improve mood, energy and stamina. Gentle and potent, this predigested blend of potent enzymes is rich in brain-boosting molecules, antioxidant nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, hypothalamic hormones and opioid peptides.2 Over a third of GA is composed of essential fatty acids (EFA), including omega-3, 6 and 9 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA).3 GA also contains a high concentration of glutamic acid, glycine, aspartic acid, lysine, alanine, arginine, leucine, proline, serine and isoleucine. Other amino acids include phenylalanine, methionine, valine, tyrosine and taurine.4 GA is rich in vitamins A, B, D, E and minerals. The extract is also rich in linoleic acid, which can contribute to improved neural function.5 The most potent and effective factor may yet be unknown, but it is suspected to be largely attributable to GA.
Twenty years ago, a double-blind crossover study on 54 college students between the ages of 18 and 25 found that Garum (3 capsules of 200 mg each daily) markedly reduced anxiety.6 A second crossover, double-blind study followed, to test the effectiveness of Garum on weakness, fatigue-related depression and anxiety, memory and cognitive performance in students. Garum performed equally well, enhancing memory and mental clarity, as demonstrated by two popular psychological tests: Wechsler’s Test of Memorisation, and Rey’s Test.7
In 2008, studies on rodents—using traditional measures of anxiety, learning and fatigue—found Garum to be remarkably effective. Rats given either Garum or a benzodiazepine spent significantly more time in the open arms of an elevated maze (suggesting less anxiety compared to placebo). The elevated plus maze has two open arms and two closed arms, and is one of the most widely used mazes for measuring anxiety-like behaviour in mice. They also learned to press a lever more often to extinguish a light—suggesting an improvement in learning ability. The anxiolytic and antidepressant-like effects of Garum were similar to diazepam. Garum also has a predictable wash out period, unlike diazepam, whose effects are long lasting, a side effect that some users find unpleasant.8
In an unpublished 4 week study in human volunteers in 2009, Garum reduced anxiety and improved sleep.9 The improvements attributed to GA were assessed via the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). Sixty healthy male and female subjects reporting moderate anxiety-related symptoms completed the study, versus the placebo. This study used the PSQI, which is widely used to assess sleep disturbances in psychiatric, medical and healthy adult population. This self-administered scale contains 15 multiple-choice items that inquire about frequency of sleep disturbances and subjective sleep quality and four write-in items that inquire about typical bedtime, wake-up time, sleep latency, and sleep duration.
Control subjects received 200 mg GA four times a day (two before breakfast and two before dinner). The GA was packaged in a soft gel capsule; placebo received a similar softgel capsule filled with virgin sunflower oil and Vitamin E. After 4 weeks, the control group had significantly improved scores in sleep quality, latency, duration and disturbances.
One in 10 Americans now takes an antidepressant medication; among women in their 40s and 50s, the figure is one in four.10 Some of this is due to overprescribing of medications for individuals who do not meet the diagnostic criteria for a major depressive disorder.11 Even so, many individuals could benefit from novel and nontoxic therapeutic agents derived from natural, sustainable sources that benefit mood and anxiety. The active components in GA may act synergistically to provide just such anxiolytic and antidepressant-like effects, along with its ability to improve memory and sleep.
- Irmisch G, Schlafke D, Gierow W, Herpertz S, Richter J. Fatty acids and sleep in depressed inpatients. Prostaglandins Leukotrienes Essential Fatty Acids 2007, 76, 1-7. PMID: 17123808 View Abstract
- Lakhwani L, Tongia SK, Pal VS, Agrawal RP, Nyati P, Phadnis P. Omega-3 fatty acids have antidepressant activity in forced swimming test in Wistar rats. Acta Pol Pharm. 2007, 64(3):271-6. PMID: 17695151 View Abstract
- Messoudi M, Lafonde R, Nejdt A, Bisson JF, Rozan P, Javelot H, Shroder H. The effects of GARUM ARMORICUM ® (GA) on elevated-plus maze and conditioned light extinction tests. Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research, 2008, Vol.6 No.1 p.39-44
- Tassoni D, Kaur G, Weisinger RS, Sinclair AJ. The role of eicosanoids in the brain. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:220-8. PMID: 18296342 View Abstract
- Dorman, T. et al. The Effectiveness of Garum Amoricum (Stabilium) on Reducing Anxiety in College Students. Journal of Advancement in Medicine. 1995; Vol 8(3):193-200. PMID: 21533678 View Abstract
- Le Poncin M. Experimental Study: Stress and Memory. The Journal of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology. 1996;6(3): 110.
- Messaoudi M, Nejdi A, Bisson JF, Rozan P, Javelot H, Lalonde R. Anxiolytic and antidepressant-like effects of Garum ® (GA), a blue ling fish protein autolysate in male wistar rats. Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research Vol 6, No. 2. 2008.
- Messaoudia M , Lalondeb R , Desprésc O, Javelotd H, Cazaubiele JM, Effects of a fish protein autolysate on sleep improvement in human healthy volunteers subjected to the daily life stress. Unpublished study 2009.
- America’s State of Mind Report: apps.who.int/medicinedocs/…/s19032en.pdf
- Mojtabai R, Clinician-identified depression in community settings: concordance with structured-interview diagnoses. Psychother Psychosom. 2013;82(3):161-9. PMID: 23548817 View Abstract