Depression is a leading cause of poor health, affecting an estimated 350 million people worldwide. In the U.S., nearly 7 percent of the population has had at least one major depressive episode, defined as lasting more than two weeks, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health suggests that relief may be as close as our plates: A diet high in fish can help curb the risk of depression.
The research was conducted by the Department of Epidemiology and Health Statistics at the Medical College of Qingdao University in China. It was a meta-analysis; that is, researchers crunched the numbers on 26 other studies, which involved a pool of 150,278 participants. Ten of those studies looked at study participants in Europe; seven from North America; and the rest from Asia, Oceania, and South America. After the data was pooled, the scientists found that there was a significant association between people eating the most fish and a reduction in depression risk, a 17 percent reduction in fact. Among men, the association was slightly stronger, with fish consumption lowering depression risk by 20 percent; among women, it was 16 percent.
The omega-3 fatty acids fish contain may affect the activity of the brain’s neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, both of which play a role in managing depression and anxiety. The high quality protein, vitamins and minerals found in fish may also help keep depression at bay, suggest the researchers.
“Higher fish consumption may be beneficial in the primary prevention of depression,” the researchers wrote. “Future studies are needed to further investigate whether this association varies according to the type of fish.”
5 To Try
Aim for two servings of fish a week, the amount recommended from groups such as the Mayo Clinic, the European Food Information Council and the American Heart Association. Resources such as the EWG’s Consumer Guide to Seafood and the Seafood Watch can help you ensure you’re making sustainable choices that are also low in mercury. Here are five fish that are high in omega-3s, low in contaminants, and fished or farmed in ways that have less impact on our environment:
- Wild salmon from Alaska
- Arctic Char (aquaculture)
- Atlantic Mackerel (caught U.S./Canada Atlantic, purse/seine method)
- Sablefish/Black Cod (aquaculture, or wild caught off U.S. West Coast)
- Rainbow Trout (from Lake Superior or aquaculture)
Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!