People at risk for depression could benefit from making an easy change to their diets, according to new research.
Scientists exploring the connection between what we eat and our mental health have extolled the value of a Mediterranean diet and a focus on clean eating while cautioning against processed foods. Now, an analysis of dozens of previous studies conducted over the past 15 years suggests seafood may be especially effective in combating depression.
Researchers at the Medical College of Qingdao University in China produced a meta-analysis of 26 previous studies, involving a total of 150,278 participants, all of which considered the effect of seafood on mental health. In the end, 14 of the studies didn't indicate any particular relationship between fish consumption and depression—but the other 12 showed a "significant association." A seafood-heavy diet was associated, on average, with a 17 percent reduced risk of depression (20 percent when men were considered separately, and 16 percent for women).
The researchers, whose findings were published in a recent issue of the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health [PDF], write that, "the exact biological mechanisms whereby high-fish intake reduce risk of depression are not well established." They posit that the benefits could be the result of seafood's high levels of n-3 PUFAs (also known as Omega-3 fatty acids) and other vitamins, or that higher consumption levels may just correspond with healthier diets overall.
While fish can't cure mental illness, the research concludes that "higher fish consumption may be beneficial in the primary prevention of depression."
Last year, Michael Berk, a professor of psychiatry at the Deakin University School of Medicine in Australia, told The Washington Post that this area of study—exploring how our diets impact depression and anxiety—"is a very new field; the first papers only came out a few years ago." But, adds Berk, "the results are unusually consistent, and they show a link between diet quality and mental health."