Based on the posting “Mood and Food: The Oil Connection” by Christine Cox, at nutritionadvocate.com
Edited (with Introduction) by Dr. Don Rose
Fit fats? From fish? Fatty food’s fabulous? Find facts! Findings about foods filled with fatty acids have been published often in recent years – for example, in reference to the consumption of fish. Read below for info on how intake of omega-3’s (found in certain fish and in other sources) can mitigate depression, as well as other examples of how fats can improve our state of mental wellbeing. --D.R.
It's no news that the kind of fat you eat affects your heart, but did you know that it also affects your head? Mind you, I’m talking about the mind. Studies seem to point to this conclusion, as anxiety, depression, memory and even schizophrenia appear to be influenced by the amounts and types of fat you choose or avoid.
Fats and Mental Health
While low-fat diets appear to be good for our physical health, several studies indicate that cutting down the fat too much may be bad for our mental health.
British researchers found that young adult test subjects had substantially less anxiety and hostility on a diet getting a whopping 41% of its calories from the greasy stuff than they did on a moderate-fat diet of 25% calories from fats.
Researchers in Louisiana fed rats diets high in protein, carbohydrates or fat, and watched their responses to anxiety-provoking situations. Like their human counterparts, the rodents on the high-fat chow had less anxiety when coping with new, slightly threatening situations.
Cholesterol and Depression
Another piece of the puzzle is the common finding that very low cholesterol levels, which are partly linked to low dietary fat intake, are associated with depression. This doesn't indicate, however, that those enviable low levels are the cause of the low mood. Researchers suggest it's possible that the low levels could be the result of the depression, through mechanisms not yet understood. Nevertheless, this cholesterol-and-depression link, together with the studies cited above, certainly seems provocative, and worthy of further inquiry.
Does this mean that when we get especially stressed we should drench our baked potatoes with butter and reach for more cheesecake? Not really. Many studies indicate that, when it comes to affecting mood and mind, it's not necessarily the amount of fat in the diet that counts, but rather the type of fat.
Omega-3: A Mega Good Fatty Acid
A certain type of fatty acid, called omega-3, is found in fish as well as in plant sources such as walnuts, flax seed and purslane. It is also widely available in supplements. The good news: it appears to have a remarkable capacity to help us fight both anxiety and depression. Since omega-3 makes up a large part of the fat in the brain, perhaps it isn't surprising that diets rich in this type of fat can influence the way we feel on a Monday morning.
Recently, a broad-based study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism looked at the relationship of eating patterns around the world to clinical depression. They found this causal link: the more fish eaten (and hence the more omega-3 consumed), the less the amount of depression. And a 1998 British study found that those people having the severest depressions were those who consumed the lowest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Even schizophrenia seems to respond to an increased intake of omega-3, according to two British studies. Symptoms of this severe disease decreased significantly with the addition of this fatty acid.
While these studies are certainly suggestive, it isn't clear that we should start piling oily foods on our plate. First, a high fat diet is correlated with increased heart disease and cancer. Second, studies indicate that even if we add omega-3s to our diet, they won't do much good if we're also eating a lot of fats of other types, such as animal fats and even vegetable oils.
The wisest course may be to follow a generally low-fat diet, but to add small amounts of oils rich in omega-3, such as canola or olive oils, to our salads and stir-fries.
Belzung C et al. Alpha-linolenic acid deficiency modifies distractibility but not anxiety and locomotion in rats during aging. J Nutrition September 1998.
Edwards R et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid levels in the diet and in red blood cell membranes of depressed patients. J Affect Disord March 1998.
Edwards R, Peet M, Shay J, Horrobin D. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid levels in the diet and in red blood cell membranes of depressed patients. J of Affect Disord March 1998.
Laugharne JD, Mellor JE, Peet M. Fatty Acids and schizophrenia. Lipids March 1996.
Peet M, Laugharne JD, Mellor J, Ramchand CN. Essential fatty acid deficiency in erythrocyte membranes from chronic schizophrenic patients, and the clinical effects of dietary supplementation. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids August 1996.
Prasad A et al. Short-term consumption of a diet rich in fat decreases anxiety response in adult male rats. Physiol Behav September 1996.
Prasad A, Prasad C. Short-term consumption of a diet rich in fat decreases anxiety response in adult male rats. Physiol Behav Sep 1996.
Wells AS, Read NW, Laugharne JD, Ahluwalia NS. Alterations in mood after changing to a low-fat diet. Brit J of Nutr Jan 1998.
Wells et al. Alterations in mood after changing to a low-fat diet. Br J Nutr January 1998.
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Dr. Don Rose writes books, papers and articles on many topics, including computers, the Internet, artificial intelligence, science and technology, and issues related to seniors.
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