Seafood: The connection between good nutrition… depression and anxiety

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Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health conditions in the world, and are on the rise. Anxiety and depression affect at least 6% of adults in the United States – or 1 in 17 – with twice as many women as men affected, and it occurs across all ages. (1,2)

When we are depressed or anxious, we naturally resist self-care, including preparing and eating nutritious food. But good nutrition is more important than ever for those suffering from depression. Research shows that our daily food choices influence our mental health, and evidence is strong that seafood is brain food. Feelings of anxiety and stress can be eased by regular consumption of fish. (3,4)

Improving nutrition takes time. When we change our diet, it can take several weeks to feel any significant improvement. Other types of self-care are important, too, such as physical activity, getting fresh air, connecting with friends and family, rest and sleep.


Looking for Statistics? Well…

  • People who regularly eat fish are 20% less likely than their peers to have depression. (5,6,7) Over the past 20 years, dozens of studies evaluating more than 20,000 cases of depression have shown that eating 8-12 o.z. of fish per week (about 2-3 servings) and/or consuming omega-3 fish oil supplements significantly reduces risk for major depression. (5,6) In fact, the American Psychiatric Association endorsed the fatty acids in fish as an effective part of depression treatment. (8)
  • People who live in countries that eat more fish have less depression. (9,10)  Diets rich in seafood, such as a Mediterranean Diet, are noted to reduce inflammation, one of the ways eating fish appears to reduce depression. (11-13)
  • Fish is like a multivitamin for your brain. Fish is more than just an excellent source of lean protein and essential omega-3’s, it provides other vitamins and minerals important for mental health. The nutrients that tend to be low in people who are depressed – vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc – are found in fish. (14-19)
  • Eating fish can reduce stress and distress for new parents. Studies of pregnant women reported that eating 8-12 o.z., or 2-3 servings, of fish a week reduced psychological distress and post-partum depression. Interestingly, fathers felt less distress during the pregnancy when they regularly ate fish, too. (20)
  • If you are taking anti-depressant medication(s), research reports the nutrients in fish may make them work better. Mental health medications work better in people with better nutrition. Getting complete protein from fish, along with omega-3’s EPA + DHA and zinc, for example, has been shown to improve response to anti-depressants. (5,10,21,22)  The American Psychiatric Association recommends that all Americans eat fish two or more times a week, preferably fatty fish such as salmon or trout. (8)
  • Eating fish shows promise for reducing migraine headaches. Increasing omega-3’s EPA + DHA while lowering omega-6 intake (often found in junk food containing soybean and vegetable oils) has been shown to significantly reduce the frequency, duration, and severity of migraine headaches. (23)
1 World Health Organization. Depression and other common mental disorders: Global health estimates. Geneva, Switzerland. 2017.
2 Brody DJ, Pratt LA, Hughes J. Prevalence of depression among adults aged 20 and over: United States, 2013-2016. NCHS Data Brief, no 303. National Center for Health Statistics. 2018.
3 Larrieu T, Layé S. Food for mood: Relevance of nutritional omega-3 fatty acids for depression and anxiety. Front Physiol, 2018;9:1047.
4 Su KP, et al. Association of Use of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids With Changes in Severity of Anxiety Symptoms: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Netw Open, 2018; 1(5):e182327
5 Grosso G, et al. Dietary n-3 PUFA, fish consumption and depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. J Affect Disord, 2016;205:269-281.
6 Li F, Liu X, Zhang D. Fish consumption and risk of depression: A meta-analysis. J Epidemiol Comm Health, 2016;70(3):299-304.
7 Sanchez-Villegas A, Henriquez P, et al. Long chain omega-3 fatty acids intake, fish consumption and mental disorders in the SUN cohort study. Eur J Nutr, 2007;46(6):337-346.
8 Freeman MP, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids: Evidence basis for treatment and future research in psychiatry. J Clin Psychiatry, 2006;67:1954-1967.
9 McNamara RK. Role of omega-3 fatty acids in the etiology, treatment, and prevention of depression: Current status and future directions. J Nutr Intermed Metab, 2016;5:96-106.
10 Hibbeln JR. Fish consumption and major depression. Lancet, 1998;351:1213.
11 Jorgensen D, et al. Higher dietary inflammation is associated with increased odds of depression independent of Framingham Risk Score on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Nutr Res, 2018;54:23-32.12 Lai JS, et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of dietary patterns and depression in community-dwelling adults. Am J Clin Nutr, 2014;99(1):181-197.
13 Sánchez-Villegas A, et al. Seafood Consumption, Omega-3 Fatty Acids Intake, and Life-Time Prevalence of Depression in the PREDIMED-Plus Trial. Nutrients 2018, 10(12), 2000.
14 Thesing CS, et al. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid levels in depressive and anxiety disorders. Psychoneuroendocrin, 2018;87:53-62.
15 Swardfager W, et al. Zinc in depression: A meta-analysis. Biol Psychiatry, 2013;74(12):872-878.
16 Wang J, Um P, Dickerman, BA. Zinc, magnesium, selenium and depression: A review of the evidence, potential mechanisms and implications. Nutrients, 2018;10(5):584.
17 Jacka FN, et al. Association between magnesium intake and depression and anxiety in community-dwelling adults: The Hordaland Health Study. Aust N Z J Psychiatry, 2009;43(1):45-52.
18 Wilkins, CH, et al. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low mood and worse cognitive performance in older adults. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry, 2006;;14(12):1032-1040.
19 Polak MA, et al. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations and depressive symptoms among young adult men and women. Nutrients, 2014;6(11):4720-4730.
20 Hamazaki K, et al. Dietary intake of fish and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and risks of perinatal depression: The Japan Environment and Children’s Study (JECS). J Psychiatr Res, 2018;98:9-16.
21 Gertsik, L, et al. Omega-3 fatty acid augmentation of citalopram treatment for patients with major depressive disorder. J Clin Psychopharmacol, 2012;32(1):61-64.
22 Ranjbar E, et al. Effects of zinc supplementation on efficacy of antidepressant therapy, inflammatory cytokines, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor in patients with major depression. Nutr Neurosi, 2014;17(2):65-71. 23 Ramsden, CE, et al. Targeted alteration of dietary n-3 and n-6 fatty acids for the treatment of chronic headaches: A randomized trial. Pain, 2013;154(11):2441-2451.

Thank you to our friends at Seafood Nutrition Partnership for their ongoing commitment to education and information.  Please visit their website and follow them on social media.

@Seafood4Health | #Seafood2xWk

*Do not consider this Seafood at Home blog post as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on Seafood at Home.


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