Canadian Study: Poor Nutrition May Hike Risk for Depression

By Rick Naurert PhD
January 23rd, 2022
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.

New research suggests one’s diet can increase the risk of depression. Investigators also discovered the likelihood of depression is higher among middle-aged and older women immigrants to Canada.

“Lower intakes of fruits and vegetables were found to be linked to depression for both men and women, immigrants and those born in Canada,” said Dr. Karen Davison, Health Science Program Chair at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C.

“Men were more likely to experience depression if they consumed higher levels of fat, or lower levels of omega-3 eggs. For all participants, lower grip strength and high nutritional risk were associated with depression.”

In the study, researchers discovered the consumption of fruits and vegetables provided protection against depression, a finding which has also been found in previous research. Davison believes “anti-inflammatory and antioxidant components in fruits and vegetables may account for this relationship.”

Moreover, various minerals and vitamins (e.g., magnesium, zinc, selenium) in fruits and vegetables may reduce plasma concentrations of C-reactive protein, a marker of low-grade inflammation associated with depression.

“We were interested to learn that omega-3 polyunsaturated fats were inversely associated with depression among men.” said co-author Yu Lung, a doctoral student at University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW).

“Future research is needed to explore the pathways but it is plausible that increased omega-3 fatty acid concentration in the diet may influence central nervous system cell-membrane fluidity, and phospholipid composition, which may alter the structure and function of the embedded proteins and affect serotonin and dopamine neurotransmission.”

In the current study, researchers discovered depression was associated with having chronic pain and at least one chronic health condition for both men and women.

“This finding underlines the importance of health professionals being aware of the mind-body connection, with the hope that the alleviation of chronic pain may facilitate better mental health,” said co-author Dr. Hongmei Tong, assistant professor of social work at MacEwan University in Edmonton.

“In addition to nutritional intake, it is important to consider influences earlier in life including immigration status, education and income as these are also crucial to the mental health of older Canadians,” said co-author Shen (Lamson) Lin, a doctoral candidate at FIFSW.

For immigrant women, the study also found that the likelihood of depression is higher among those middle-aged and older when compared to Canadian-born women.

The links between immigrant status and depression may be attributed to many factors. “Among women, but not men, immigrant status was associated with depression,” said senior author, Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson.

“The older immigrant women in this study may have reported depression as a result of the substantial stress associated with settling in a new country such as having insufficient income, overcoming language barriers, facing discrimination, adapting to a different culture, reduced social support networks, and having their education and work experiences unrecognized.”

“It was surprising that immigrant men, who face many of these same settlement problems, did not have higher levels of depression than their Canadian-born peers,” said co-author Dr. Karen Kobayashi, associate dean in the Faculty of Social Sciences, at the Institute on Aging & Lifelong Health at the University of Victoria.

“Although we did not have the data to explore why there was a gender difference, it may be that in these older married couples it was the husband who initiated the immigration process and the wives may not have as much choice about whether or not they wanted to leave their homeland.”

The study was based on analysis of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging data and included a sample of 27,162 men and women aged 45-85 years, of whom 4,739 are immigrants. The article appears in BMC Psychiatry.

“The study findings may help to define programs and policies that could help immigrants transition positively to Canadian culture,” Davison said. “In addition, this investigation helps to highlight the need to consider nutrition-related programming and policies relevant for all Canadians.”

Source: University of Toronto/EurekAlert

Dr. Rick Naurert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Naurert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.