When researchers took a close look at the foods typically eaten in various countries, they discovered an interesting insight: as fish consumption increased, depression decreased.
Of course, depression isn’t uniform in each country; it varies from city to city and town to town. But what is consistent is this: People who consume the most fish (found in Japan, Thailand, and Hong Kong) were the least depressed, while those with the lowest fish consumption (found in North America, Europe, and New Zealand) had the highest rates of depression. The secret seems to be the abundance of a particular type of fat found in fish (and in other foods): omega-3 fatty acids.
A closer look at the Japanese diet sheds more light on the fish-omega 3-depression link: Typically, about 15 times more omega-3s are in the diet of the Japanese than are in the American diet. Depression-wise, this translates into a Japanese culture with one-tenth the depression rate of Americans. Viewed from another vantage point, this means that almost 50% of elderly Americans have symptoms of depression, compared with about 2% of the Japanese elderly. Even more striking is the discovery in 1995 by psychiatrists who interviewed elders living in a Japanese fishing village: they did not find even one case of clinical depression.
Anatomy of Omega 3s and mood
How might Omega-3 fats ward off depression? One of the omega 3s — with the long name of docosahesaenoic (DNA) — is believed to boost the blues because it is concentrated in the brain. Contributing to about 50% of the total fats in nerve tissue, they play a key role in the functioning of nerve membranes, and in turn, your nervous system. Add the link between deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids and low levels of serotonin, and you’re more vulnerable to depression.
Fish for feel-good feelings
From dreary doldrums to a deeper depression, a diet that is deficient in omega-3 fats can contribute to the problem. Here are some omega-3-rich fish to integrate into your diet. (Note. One serving is 3 ounces, before cooking.)
Sardines, in sardine oil (3.3 grams Omega-3 fatty acids)
Mackerel, Atlantic (2.5 grams Omega-3 fatty acids)
Trout, lake (1.6 grams Omega-3 fatty acids)
Anchovy, European (1.4 grams Omega-3 fatty acids)
Salmon, pink (1.0 grams Omega-3 fatty acids)
Two or three servings are all you need each week to get the benefits of fish oil (while avoiding too much mercury and other toxins often found in fish). If you find it’s not always convenient to eat omega-3-rich fish, it’s a good idea to consider supplementing your diet with a good fish oil supplement that is mercury and toxin-free. Keep in mind that fish oil-rich food is your best defense against depression, but taking a daily supplement can also be good insurance against deficiency. For more insights into natural mood boosters read, “Get High with Movement and Motion” by EmpowHer expert and writer Larry Scherwitz, PhD.
Deborah Kesten, MPH, was the nutritionist on Dean Ornish, MD’s first clinical trial for reversing heart disease through lifestyle changes—without drugs or surgery, and Director of Nutrition on similar research in cardiovascular clinics in Europe. She is the award-winning author of Feeding the Body, Nourishing the Soul, The Healing Secrets of Food, and The Enlightened Diet. Call her at 415.810.7874, or visit her at www.Enlightened-Diet.com to take her FREE What’s Your Eating Style? Quiz, and to learn more about her Whole Person Nutrition Program for wellness, weight loss, heart-health, coaching, and books.