A recent investigation among an Australian Islander population, the Torres Strait Islanders, confirmed those aspects of a modern diet that contribute to major depression and highlighted two specific fats that are highly involved in the development of the disease. The Islanders that ate more fish, less take-out and fast foods, and subsequently had higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids, had the lowest risk for depression and depression-related issues. Those Islanders, typically younger and following a less-traditional diet, that ate more processed food, less seafood, resulting in more omega 6 fatty acids, were at the highest risk.
This is not a new development or unprecedented observation, but a confirmation of both dietary risk factors and essential nutrients that require both adequate dietary intake and balance. Seafood, particularly cold water, marine fish, is a leading source of long chain omega 3 fatty acids. These fats provide the brain with possibly the most rate-limiting nutrient in the area of development and anti-inflammatory regulatory processes. Many nutrients are simply irreplaceable when it comes to specific areas of brain function and long chain omega 3 fatty acids are at the top of that list.
Previous research in this area has established clear relationships linking high omega 6 fatty acids and low omega 3 fatty acids with increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and a host of other inflammation-driven conditions or diseases. The dietary primary culprits that create this physiological imbalance (too high of an omega 6 fat content in our ell membranes and too low of an omega 3 content, often referred to as an omega index are the main ingredients in most processed foods. Industrial seed oils and vegetable oils from sources such as soybean, sunflower seed, corn, safflower, and canola oils generally constitute one of the top two or three ingredients in both processed food and take-out/fast food menus. Typically high in omega 6 fats, these oils quickly get absorbed, transported, and eventually incorporated into our cell membranes. With higher cellular levels, these fats transform normal cell processes from a balanced state to increased reactivity, generating more oxidative stress and higher levels of inflammation.
Most experts in the field of fatty acid research suggest that our goal should be to consume a ratio of omega 6’s to omega 3’s somewhere between 1:1 and 3:1. In the average American’s diet, studies would indicate that the typical ratio is greater than 20:1. Of course this information is not limited to those eating foods orally. The enteral nutrition world is full of formulas that use cheap, industrial seed oils as the foundation of their fat content. This creates formulas with higher levels of omega 6 fats and little in the way of omega 3s.