We have long suspected a link between diet and depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. A study out of Australia reinforces that belief. It also shines a light on the damage highly-processed fast food can do to human mental health.
Two key questions were asked by researchers at James Cook University in Australia. Can mental illness be influenced by diet? Does consumption of fast food contribute to depression?
The answer to both questions is “yes,” at least among the Torres Strait Islander population.
The research team examined the link between depression and diet on one Torres Strait Island where fast food was available and on another, more remote island, where there are no fast food outlets. They found that the amount of fish and fast food consumed is related to depression.
The team interviewed about 100 people on each island, according to lead study author Dr. Maximus Berger.
“We asked them about their diet, screened them for their levels of depression and took blood samples. As you’d expect, people on the more isolated island with no fast food outlets reported significantly higher seafood consumption and lower take-away food consumption compared with people on the other island,” he said.
A total of nineteen people were identified as suffering moderate to severe depression symptoms. Only three were from the island where no fast food was available; the other sixteen were from the island with fast food outlets.
“People with major depressive symptoms were both younger and had higher take-away food consumption,” said Dr Berger.
They analyzed blood samples with the help of researchers at the University of Adelaide. Key differences in the levels of two fatty acids was discovered between the people living on different islands.
“The level of the fatty acid associated with depression and found in many take-away foods was higher in people living on the island with ready access to fast food, the level of the fatty acid associated with protection against depression and found in seafood was higher on the other island,” said Dr Berger.
He emphasized that the typical modern Western diet is abundant in fatty acid linked to depression (n-6 PUFA,) and is relatively low in the depression-fighting fatty acid (n-3 LCPUFA.)
“In countries with a traditional diet, the ratio of n-6 to n-3 is 1:1, in industrialised countries it’s 20:1,” he said.
According to Professor Zoltan Sarnyai, another member of the JCU team, depression affects approximately one in seven people at one point or another in their lives. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seem to be disproportionately impacted by mental ill-health and psychological distress when compared with the general population.
“Depression is complex, it’s also linked to social and environmental factors so there will be no silver bullet cure, but our data suggests that a diet that is rich in n-3 LCPUFA as provided by seafood and low in n-6 PUFA as found in many take-away foods may be beneficial,” he said.
Professor Sarnyai said the findings indicate that more research is necessary. While they haven’t proved a definitive link between diet and depression, the indication that a diet laden with fast food, convenience foods and processed foods contributes to poor mental health. He feels that more effort should be made to provide access to healthy foods in remote and rural communities.
“It should be a priority and may be beneficial not only to physical health but also to mental health and wellbeing,” he said.
In relation to your mental health, then, it’s possible that the better the quality of food you eat, the better the quality of your mental health.
Keep the faith and keep after it!
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Journal Reference – Maximus Berger, Sean Taylor, Linton Harriss, Sandra Campbell, Fintan Thompson, Samuel Jones, Maria Makrides, Robert Gibson, G. Paul Amminger, Zoltan Sarnyai, Robyn McDermott. Cross-sectional association of seafood consumption, polyunsaturated fatty acids and depressive symptoms in two Torres Strait communities. Nutritional Neuroscience, 2018; 1 DOI: 10.1080/1028415X.2018.1504429