You’ve had a bad day. Nothing has gone right and you just want to get home to a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. We’ve all been there, when our only solace is a heaping helping of junk food. Nothing soothes our woes like our favorite tasty treat, or does it? New research says you should probably set the Chunky Monkey down and look to an alternative snack.
In fact, a healthier diet may be the first step to a better outlook (Clay, 2017; Sanchez-Villegas & Martinez-González, 2013). Studies have shown that depression can be directly linked to pro-inflammatory cytokines, which inhibit the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) through inflammation of endothelial cells (the cells responsible for BDNF production) (Sanchez-Villegas & Martinez-González, 2013). BDNF is a neurotrophin responsible for preventing neuronal cell death, so diminished production can lead to significant cognitive difficulties, including depression (McKusick & Tiller, 1990/2017). Long story short, inflammation likely leads to poor mental health.
How do we stop this inflammation? To answer that question, let’s take a look at fats. There are two key fats that we need to examine: trans fatty acids and lipids with anti-inflammatory properties (like omega-3 fatty acids) (Clay, 2017; Sanchez-Villegas & Martinez-González, 2013). Trans fatty acids are typically found in our junk food: burgers, chips, and ice cream; yet, healthy lipids are the fats found in fish and olive oil. Trans fatty fats may be responsible for responsible for increased inflammation of the endothelial cells, while healthy lipids have anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce the inflammation. Through healthy lipids, inflammation can be reduced leading to increased production of BDNF and better cell regeneration (McKusick & Tiller, 1990/2017; Sanchez-Villegas & Martinez-González, 2013).
As exciting as this news is, it should be taken with a grain of salt (yeah, we got food puns). The connection between fats and depression is still relatively new and requires additional research. Though, if you have the Monday blues, you might consider substituting your afternoon bowl of ice cream for some hummus (rich in olive oil) and your favorite vegetable.
Clay, R.A. 2017. The Link between food and mental health. Monitor on Psychology, 48(8).
Sanchez-Villegas, A. and Martinez-González, M.A. 2013. Diet, a new target to prevent depression? BMC Medicine, 11(3).
McKusick, M.A. & Tiller, G.E. 1990/2017. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor; BDNF. OMIM.
Michael Daniel, MA
WKPIC Doctoral Intern