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Fish Eaters Have Less Depression!

research Mar 29, 2016

Mild-moderate depression is perhaps the single most common concurrent diagnosis of the patients and people I speak with. Patients often describe "lack of energy" and "fatigue" as a top concern following the original complaint that brings them into my office. While it needs to be investigated with a good case-history, physical exam, and potentially blood work to rule out other causes (i.e. low iron, low thyroid, etc.) fortunately in my practice, most people are simply depressed and over-worked. Usually this is rooted in a poor self-care routine and too many demands on one's time and energy. Most commonly, I prescribe a combination of naturopathic fundamentals like diet, exercise, relaxation, and a healthy dose of sun and fresh air to help them lift their moods and provide a little balance to their lives. Occasionally, I will also prescribe supplements such as omega-3's, which have great research to support their use for depression. Of course, when and where I can I prefer to recommend food rather than capsules.

Which is why I am so excited to share today's research...

Study Details

Since the discovery of the cardiovascular benefit of omega-3 fatty acids on human health in the late 90s, the race has been on to get more of it into our bodies. The primary source of omega-3 fatty acids in the human diet is fish, but the research was always being done on the omega-3 constituent, not the food it was found in. So, in true academic fashion, the connection between fish consumption (rather than omega-3s) and depression was a point of debate.

I'm delighted to share this research because it focusses on a whole food choice rather than chemical compound. Research like this is rarer than you would expect. I suspect it has to do with not being able to patent a whole food (like fish or a potato) and the challenge presented by tracking a variable that is inherently, well... variable. One fish is not the same as another, tomato-tomato so to speak. I digress. Back to the study...

The study is a meta-analysis, meaning it looks at the results of a bunch of similar studies and compiled them. After finding, reviewing the published literature (over 1000 articles). Out of thousands, it decided only a whopping total of 26 separate studies were of good enough quality to meet the standards of the British Medical Journal.

These 26 studies compared a total of just over 150,000 fish eating and non-fish eating participants from the general population.

The relative risk of depression for highest versus lowest fish consumption was 0.83. Translation: This means for every 100 non-fish eaters with depression, there would only by 83 fish eaters with depression. They even did some statistical magic on the results to make sure it was a stable relationship - controlling for variables like gender and heterogeneous populations. The relationship still held after all that.

Bottom Line: While the populations, types of fish, cooking methods, and quantity of fish eaten were all over the map in this compilation of studies, one thing is clear - those that ate more fish had less incidence of depression.


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Additional Commentary

The significance of this meta-analysis is that it clears up the controversy around whether there is a relationship between dietary fish and depression. It answers the question about whether the benefit of omega-3s for treating depression can be realized by simply eating fish. There is: it confirms that the more fish you eat, the less depression you have.

It may shock you that medical science has just confirmed this now, given all the hype about omega-3s for the last 15 years. As is often the case, whole food research comes much later after the "wonder cure compound" has been identified. It's backwards. I know. But it's scientific progress... and it leaves us with more questions to look into:

  • What type of fish is best? For whom?
  • How much do you need to eat to see a benefit?
  • How much for maximal benefit to mental health?
  • What about farmed versus wild?
  • Pan-fried versus broiled?
  • and on and on it goes...

In clinical practice, I will encourage my patients to eat more fish. Likely at a "dosage" of about 3-4 times per week as that seems consistent with a mediterranean/paleo type dietary approach.

Reference: Li F, Liu X, Zhang D. Fish consumption and risk of depression: a meta-analysis. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2015.


Now, I'd like to hear from you!

Did you like this post? How frequently do you eat fish? Will you eat more after reading this article?

As always, I hope this article serves you.

Kindly,

 

 

Other episodes you might enjoy : 

MENTAL HEALTH 101: Change Your Mind, Change Your World

Why You Should Give Meditation A Try (Even If You Think You're Bad At It)

3 Ways To Lift The Winter Blues

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