Supposing the old adage "you are what you eat" is true, consider what you are when you're in a self-loathing heap on the couch after housing a Cinnabon and three soft tacos stuffed with packaged shredded cheese and grade-F meat. Or five cans of Kirkland Light beer and half a package of bologna eaten in drunken shame. Talk about an identity crisis.
But it's been proven time and time again that our mental health is deeply tied to our diet and nutrition. White wine and sugary pastries, for instance: despite the immediate satiety they provide, they're not as good for your mood as you'd expect.
A new study may offer hope for those who are looking for ways to combat depression and anxiety through using what's on their plates. And the key could be in a seafood platter.
Researchers at the Medical College of Qingdao University in China collected and analyzed 26 previous studies from the past 15 years that included roughly 150,278 participants. The team hoped to discern how eating fish can impact one's risk of suffering from depression. As it turns out, fish—long thought of as "brain food"—can have emotional benefits on top of physical perks. The results are published in a recent issue of the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
Of the 26 studies examined, 12 established a "significant association" between fish consumption and reduced incidence of depression. Overall, people who ate the highest quantities of fish regularly had a 17 percent reduced risk, on average, of developing depression. For men, the risk was about 20 percent lower, compared to 16 percent lower for women.
"Higher fish consumption may be beneficial in the primary prevention of depression," the researchers concluded. "Future studies are needed to further investigate whether this association varies according to the type of fish."
One possible reason for the correlation: Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in high quantities in fish, have been linked to improved brain health. (The correlation between Omega-3 supplements and reduced risk of cognitive decline, however, remains controversial, and has not been firmly proven by science.) But in general, happy neurons and neurotransmitters could equate to a more well-adjusted human being. Fish oil has even been demonstrated to stave off schizophrenia in high-risk individuals.
Fish can't necessarily be considered a cure for depression, but a fish-rich diet can serve as a preventative measure in individuals who have family histories of mental health disorders or who are in treatment. In 2013, Harvard Medical School officially recommended the adoption of a Mediterranean diet—rich in fish, whole grains, and plant-based food—for a longer life with fewer health problems, including a reduced risk of losing your marbles.
While we may think of curing the blues with a stiff drink or a retreat into a tub of macaroni and cheese, maybe we should consider hitting the sushi bar instead.