Could Eating More Fish Reduce the Risk of Depression?
After the analysis of almost 30 studies, researchers in China believe that eating more fish could help reduce the risk of depression.
Contrary to what some people think, depression isn’t just feeling sad for a couple of days – something we all go through now and again. Depression can leave the sufferer feeling persistently down and unable to interact as they normally would for weeks, or sometimes even months.
According to Mind, the mental health charity, one in four people will experience a mental health problem every year in the UK. It is thought that around 3% of British people face depression, almost 5% suffer from anxiety, and as much as 10% have a mixture of both. A recent study even suggests that as many as one in five people can suffer from depression in the UK.
Depression is a genuine health condition with real symptoms, some of which can manifest as physical symptoms. Of course, there are therapies and medications that a sufferer can use to try and treat their illness, but is there anything else that could help?
This latest report, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, analysed 26 observational studies conducted since 2001. This means that the study participants’ diets were recorded and examined, rather than them having to eat more fish.
The studies, altogether involving more than 150,000 participants, looked into possible relationships between fish consumption and depression. However, the conclusions of each of these studies provided some mixed results.
And so, a research team from the Qingdao University Medical College’s Department of Epidemiology and Health Statistics decided to take a look at the different types of study.
What they found was that the so-called protective effect from eating a lot of fish was actually only found in the studies carried out in Europe, but not in those from anywhere else in the world.
Combining all of the data, the team found a significant link between those who had a lot of fish in their diet and a lower risk of depression. And it was true in both men and women, showing a reduction of 20% and 16% respectively. This is an overall risk reduction of about 17%!
Unfortunately, because all of the studies were observational, none of the results pointed to any conclusions about cause-and-effect, which has led the researchers to developing their own theories as to what might be happening.
One theory is that people who eat a lot of fish often just have a healthier diet in general. Perhaps something else in their diet, or a combination of all of the healthy foods, could be boosting their mental health.
Alternatively, it could have something to do with omega-3 fatty acids, which is primarily found in fish. Consumption of foods containing omega-3 fatty acids has been linked with a reduced risk of several health conditions, from cancer to Alzheimer’s.
It is thought that these fatty acids could be key in the activity of dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters in the brain thought to be involved in depression.
Study lead Professor Dongfeng Zhang explained that report was carried out because there is clearly a link between fish consumption and depression, but nothing definitive on the subject.
“[The report] indicated that a healthy dietary pattern…was significantly associated with a reduced risk of depression,” he said. He explained that such a diet would be characterised by a high intake of fish, as well as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
The professor added, however, that the problem lies in it not yet being clear which component of this diet is actually responsible for the proactive effect on the brain.
Overall, the authors concluded that higher fish consumption could indeed be beneficial in the prevention of depression, but further studies are still needed to determine whether this association varies depending on the type of fish.
Rachel Boyd, Mind’s Information Manager, said that the charity had recently published a guide, Food and Mood, which backs up the findings. It includes advice about eating “good fats”, like those you would find in fish.
“We really agree that having these fatty acids in your diet can be helpful,” she said. “It’s something where people can make quite small changes that can have quite a big impact.”
She also pointed out that vegetarians and other people who don’t eat fish can obtain these fatty acids from nuts and seeds, as well as supplements.
When a person is prone to depression, having more options available to them can be a big help, so let’s hope researchers are able to isolate that dietary component as soon as possible.
In the meantime, however, why not try adding more fish to your diet – or nuts and seeds – and be sure to let us know how it affects you!