McLean Hospital researchers have added yet another item to the cornucopia of evidence that “we are what we eat,” confirming that elements in our diet can affect not just our physical health, but our mental health as well.
Research led by Associate Professor of Psychiatry William A. Carlezon Jr. confirmed the antidepressant-like effects of omega-3 fatty acids, found in cold-water fish like sardines, tuna, and Atlantic salmon, and some plant sources such as canola oil and walnuts.
Carlezon and colleagues also found that uridine, a compound found in sugar beets and molasses, has similar effects. When both compounds were used together, they were found to be effective in lower doses. The research was reported in a recent issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry.
Carlezon’s research, conducted with McLean colleagues Stephen Mague, Aimee Parow, Associate Professor of Psychiatry Andrew Stoll, Professor of Psychiatry and head of McLean’s Psychiatry Department Bruce Cohen, and Professor of Psychiatry Perry Renshaw, was prompted by clinical studies that have shown omega-3 fatty acids to have beneficial effects on some suffering from major depression. It also follows on anecdotal evidence and broad trends of lower rates of depression in countries that have high fish consumption, such as Scandinavian and East Asian nations.
Depression is a widespread health problem in America. Depressive disorders, which include major depression, bipolar disease, and chronic mild depression, affect 18.8 million Americans, or nearly 10 percent of the adult population, annually. Major depression alone affects 9.9 million Americans annually, and twice as many women as men, according to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Though the mechanism by which these compounds work is unknown, Carlezon said it is thought that they affect fats in the brain, perhaps by making membranes more resilient and easing the flow of neurotransmitters. An imbalance of neurotransmitters – chemicals that transfer messages between nerve cells – is thought to be a cause of depression.