Higher takeaway and fast-food consumption cause major depressive symptoms as compared to those who do have access to as many fast-food outlets. Researchers, in a study on an island in Australia, concluded that a healthy diet not only boosts physical health but also mental health and well-being.
Through an unusual experiment, Researchers from James Cook University in Australia have discovered a link between depression and the consumption of processed foods and fish among Torres Strait Islanders. On a Torres Strait Island where fast food is available and on a more remote island with no fast-food establishments, a JCU study team looked at the relationship between diet and depression.
The study was led by Professors Zoltan Sarnyai and Robyn McDermott. According to Dr. Maximus Berger, the study’s lead author, the team spoke with roughly 100 residents on both islands. “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.
People with major depressive symptoms had higher take-away food consumption
Nineteen individuals were found by the researchers to have moderate to severe depression symptoms; sixteen of these individuals came from the island where fast food is easily accessible, whereas only three individuals came from the other island. “People with major depressive symptoms were both younger and had higher take-away food consumption,” said Dr Berger. Together with scientists from the University of Adelaide, the researchers examined blood samples and discovered variations in two fatty acid levels in residents of the different islands.
Fatty acids and their association with depression
“The level of the fatty acid associated with depression which is found in many take-away foods was higher in people living on the island with ready access to fast food, whereas the level of the fatty acid associated with protection against depression which is found in seafood was higher on the other island,” said Dr Berger.
He emphasised the significance of keeping in mind that modern Western diets are high in the fatty acid (n-6 PUFA) connected to depression and low in the fatty acid (n-3 LCPUFA) that fights depression. “In countries with a traditional diet, the ratio of n-6 to n-3 is 1:1, in industrialized countries, it’s 20:1,” he said.
Depression affects one in seven people at some point in their lives
According to Professor Sarnyai, depression affects one in seven persons at some point in their lives, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely than the overall population to have psychological distress and mental illness. “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. Although it is early to draw a conclusion that diet can have a long-term effect on depression risk, Professor Sarnyai called for greater efforts to be made to increase access to healthy food in rural and remote populations. “It should be a priority and may be beneficial not only to physical health but also to mental health and wellbeing,” he said.
Materials provided by James Cook University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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
James Cook University. “Study firms up diet and depression link.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 October 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181010093645.htm>.
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