Eating Fish Might Help to Reduce Depression

We all know that diet is important. How could we avoid knowing? Press articles and public health announcements about reducing salt, reducing sugar and avoiding obesity are all around us.

But did you know that your diet can also affect your mental health?

There has long been a vague feeling that a good diet is important for mental health. For example, the Mental Health Foundation has pointed out that diet can play a part in the treatment of several mental health disorders, including depression, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The Foundation does not go as far as to say the right diet means can replace all other treatments. However, the clear consensus is that the right diet does play a part in improving health.

A recent article published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, however, goes significantly further.

The researchers, a group in China, found that people who ate a lot of fish were 17% less likely to become depressed than those who ate less fish. The same effect was seen in both men and women. The researchers suggested that this may be due to the beneficial effects of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. A recent study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology supports this finding. Researchers concluded that those suffering with depression had decreased levels of Omega-3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.

man with fish
Eating a diet high in fish may help to prevent depression (Photo from Shutterstock)

The interesting thing is that the article published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health is a review article. In other words, it brings together the findings from several studies; in this case, 26 studies described in 16 articles, and involving over 150,000 people. By anyone’s measure that is a lot of people.

The group were also able to demonstrate clear differences between nationalities. The beneficial effect of fish was only seen in European studies, and not in those from North or South America, or Asia.

Why does this matter?

Current treatments for depression are arguably not great. They have side effects, and may require people to take medication for long periods of time. This study offers at least the potential for new regimes that are more about lifestyle, and less about medication.

It is hard to be positive at this stage without understanding the mechanism more clearly, but there is no doubt that eating more fish was linked to a significant reduction in chances of developing depression.

It may be because those who ate more fish were more likely to have a better diet anyway. That may also be why the effect was only seen in European populations, because fish is more widespread in Asian diets. Perhaps the report raises more questions than it answers.

healthy meal
Those who eat more fish are likely to have a better diet in general

But when we are talking about a mental health problem that affects up to 350 million people worldwide, the potential is significant. Lifestyle-focused regimes of treatment could offer both improved quality of life, and reduced cost of treatment. Hopefully, this research may signal a turning point in the treatment of depression.

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