Seafood Could Be The Key To Mental Health

Could fish be a link to coping with depression?

Recently ten daily reported on research that suggested elements of the Mediterranean diet may help to combat depression. Now, a new study from James Cook University has found a link between the amount of fish and processed foods people eat and their mental health.

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A research team led by Professors Zoltan Sarnyai and Robyn McDermott looked at the link between depression and diet on one Torres Strait island, where fast food is available, and on a more isolated island, which has no fast food outlets. The team interviewed about 100 on both islands and found some pretty interesting results.

“We asked them about their diet, screened them for their levels of depression and took blood samples," said Dr Maximus Berger, the lead author of the study. "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.

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But what was interesting was how this related to depression. You see, the researchers identified nineteen people as having moderate to severe depressive symptoms: sixteen were from the island where fast food is readily available, but only three from the other island.

Only three!

The researchers analysed the blood samples in collaboration with researchers at the University of Adelaide and found differences between the levels of two fatty acids in people who lived on the respective islands. The depression fighting fatty acid (n-3 LCPUFA) which is found in seafood, was higher in the island where there was no takeway, while the one associated with depression (n-6 PUFA) was higher on the island where people had ready access to fast food.

Berger said it was important to remember that contemporary Western diets have an abundance of n-6 PUFA and a relative lack of n-3 LCPUFA. In fact, “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 Sarnyai, depression affects about one in seven people at some point in their lives and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are disproportionately affected by psychological distress and mental ill-health 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 with the currently available data it was premature to conclude that diet can have a lasting impact on depression risk but called for more effort to be put into providing access to healthy food in rural and remote communities.

“It should be a priority and may be beneficial not only to physical health but also to mental health and wellbeing,” he said.

Feature Image: Getty