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Eating to beat depression, suicidal tendencies

By Chukwuma Muanya
02 October 2018   |   4:34 am
Eating a Mediterranean diet with plenty of fish, fruit, vegetables and nuts lowers a person's risk of depression. A review of dozens of studies found pescatarians who eat lots of plant-based foods are a third less likely to develop the mental-health condition.

Mediterranean diet… Eating a Mediterranean diet with plenty of fish, fruit, vegetables and nuts lowers a person’s risk of depression.

*Diet with plenty of fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts slashes risk of depression by 33%
*Doctors question claims fish oil can cut heart attack, stroke chances by 25%

Eating a Mediterranean diet with plenty of fish, fruit, vegetables and nuts lowers a person’s risk of depression. A review of dozens of studies found pescatarians who eat lots of plant-based foods are a third less likely to develop the mental-health condition.Researchers today described the evidence to show there is a relationship between the quality of diet and mental health as ‘compelling’.

Mediterranean diets, also rich in olive oil, lentils and even red wine, are thought to lower inflammation, which may benefit a person’s mental health.The University College London (UCL) researchers analysed 41 studies that investigated the link between a person’s diet and their risk of depression.Four of the studies specifically assessed the association between a traditional Mediterranean diet and depression in a total of 36,556 adults.

Results suggest those who most strictly follow a Mediterranean diet are 33 per cent less likely to suffer from depression than those who adhere to it the least.“There is compelling evidence to show that there is a relationship between the quality of your diet and your mental health,” Lassale said.“This relationship goes beyond the effect of diet on your body size or other aspects of health that can in turn affect your mood.”The scientists also looked at five studies investigating the link between a poor diet and depression in 32,908 adults from France, Australia, Spain, the US and the UK.Their study, published Wednesday in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, found eating lots of saturated fat, sugar and processed food increases a person’s depression risk.

Lassale and colleagues now recommend people avoid inflammatory foods in favour of fruits, vegetables, lentils, chickpeas, fish, olive oil and nuts.“A pro-inflammatory diet can induce systemic inflammation, and this can directly increase the risk for depression,” she said. “There is also emerging evidence that shows that the relationship between the gut and brain plays a key role in mental health and that this axis is modulated by gastrointestinal bacteria, which can be modified by our diet.”

What is depression? While it is normal to feel down from time to time, people with depression may feel persistently unhappy for weeks or months on end.Depression can affect anyone at any age and is fairly common – approximately one in ten people are likely to experience at some point in their life. Depression is a genuine health condition which people cannot just ignore or ‘snap out of it’.Symptoms and effects vary, but can include constantly feeling upset or hopeless, or losing interest in things you used to enjoy.

It can also cause physical symptoms such as problems sleeping, tiredness, having a low appetite or sex drive, and even feeling physical pain.In extreme cases it can lead to suicidal thoughts. Traumatic events can trigger it, and people with a family history may be more at risk.It is important to see a doctor if you think you or someone you know has depression, as it can be managed with lifestyle changes, therapy or medication.

Meanwhile, the scientists also believe their findings support depression sufferers making changes to their diets, rather than immediately opting for antidepressants.Co-author Dr. Tasnime Akbaraly added: “Our study findings support routine dietary counselling as part of a doctor’s office visit, especially with mental health practitioners. “This is of importance at a patient’s level, but also at public health level, especially in a context where poor diet is now recognised to be the leading cause of early death across middle and high-income countries and at the same time mental disorders as the leading cause of disability.”

But Professor Naveed Sattar, from the University of Glasgow, argued people with depression may choose unhealthy foods, rather than their poor diet being the cause of their mental-health condition. “We really need large, well powered, intervention trials to test this to give this idea any credibility,” he said.“Also the link to inflammation as a plausible mechanism to explain a link between diet and mind health is highly tenuous. Thus, whilst eating healthier is good for many reasons, we need more evidence before we can say plant rich diets can improve mental health.”

The UCL scientists also stress further research is required to determine how dietary changes could affect a person’s mental health.This comes after research released earlier this year suggested stopping exercise can worsen depression in as little as three days. Six studies found patients’ symptoms reappear almost immediately after they stop being active, according to a review by the University of Adelaide.Meanwhile, a fish oil derivative may cut risks of major cardiovascular problems like heart attack and stroke by as much as 25 percent, preliminary results announced by its manufacturer suggest. Vascepa is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved prescription fish oil.

Its maker, Amarin, has been conducting a large global study on the drug since 2011. The results are due to be presented at the American Heart Association meeting in November, but Amarin did not wait to announce REDUCE-IT’s surprising top-line results.Capsules of fish oil derivative are low-risk, and even a pricey $311 bottle of 120 capsules is cheap compared to a heart attack, so the findings could be game-changing, but cardiologists remain skeptical of the rushed announcement. Heart disease and the disastrous cardiovascular events it causes are the leading cause of death in the US, and have been for 90 years. So-called ‘bad’ cholesterol – low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – and another form of fat called triglycerides are among the major culprits in the development of heart disease.

These stubborn fat cells build up in the arteries, making passageways for blood more narrow. The heart has to work much harder to muscle blood through the clogged-up arteries, which can eventually even become completely blocked. Heart attack, stroke and heart failure risks are much higher among patients who have high LDL cholesterol.Cholesterol is also a risk factor that we can exert some control over, however – unlike genetics. LDL comes from foods that are high in saturated fats, including dairy, red meat and fried foods or trans fats, found in many sweets and baked goods.

Exercise helps to burn these off, and diets high in fiber and healthy fats, like the omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish, may help to keep cholesterol and triglycerides from being absorbed into your blood stream. And some studies – and many supplement companies – suggest that you can skip the fish dinner and just take capsules of fish oil to get these benefits. The American Heart Association (AHA) does not endorse an either-or approach, but rather suggests that medications like statins and fish oil prescriptions or supplements may be useful in addition to diet and lifestyle changes for those whose cholesterol remains high.

Most studies have shown that fish oil is useful for lowering triglycerides, but not so much LDL. Amarin claims that its fish oil ester, Vascepa does so well enough to drastically reduce the risks of heart attack or stroke. Vascepa is one of two FDA-approved, prescription omega-3 acid drugs. Both it and Lovaza are ethyl esters, meaning they are derived from fish oil but are not themselves pure fish oil. For some people, fish oil can actually raise LDL levels though it may reduce triglycerides. Amarin boasts that its drug can reduce by triglycerides by a third, without touching LDL levels.

In a test of Vascepa’s power, Amarin began conducting the REDUCE-IT study in 2011. The study, overseen by steering committee chair and Harvard University cardiology professor Dr. Deepak Bhatt at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, involved more than 8,100 high risk heart patients from around the world, according to Amarin’s announcement. All of the study participants were already taking statins, the most commonly prescribed drug to help control cholesterol levels. But only half of them were also given Vascepa.

According to Amarin, the study has at last concluded, and those that got both medications were 25 percent less likely to have a heart attack, stroke or other major cardiovascluar problems, be hospitalized or die from these problems. However, that’s about as much information as the company is offering at this time, ahead of the study’s official presentation at the AHA meeting in November. And that raises more questions that hopes for Dr. David Brown, a cardiologist with Washington University, St Louis.