Link is food for thought
A TOWNSVILLE- based researcher has called for more effort to be put into providing access to healthy food in North Queensland, as the scientific links between diet and mental health grow stronger.
Professor Zoltan Sarnyai, of James Cook University, said nutrition was one piece of the puzzle when it came to a healthy state of mind.
“There is more and more evidence out there to indicate that nutritional factors influence brain function,” he said.
“More and more people are relying on prepared food that you can buy in a store.
“Especially in this part of the world, it is important and critical that people have as much access as possible to nutritional resources that are beneficial to health and mental health.”
Prof Sarnyai’s comments come after his team of researchers found a link between the consumption of fast food and depression in a unique observational study involving two islands in the Torres Strait.
The team interviewed about 100 people on Thursday Island and Mer Island, asking them about their diets, screening them for depression and taking blood samples.
People on the more isolated Mer Island, which has no fastfood outlets, reported significantly higher seafood consumption and lower takeaway food consumption compared to people on Thursday Island, which has two fast- food outlets.
The study found 19 participants had moderate to severe depressive symptoms – 16 of those from the island where fast food was readily available.
Prof Sarnyai warned it would be premature to conclude that diet can have a lasting impact on depression risk but said a larger, more robust, study could prove valuable.
Dr Matthew Bambling, from the University of Queensland’s Faculty of Medicine, said research into the “gut- brain axis” had accelerated in recent years, including the completion of a study mapping the genetic makeup of the gut.
“We’re much more than our thoughts,” he said. “It’s possible to give ourselves dysbiosis and leaky gut just from stress.”
A clinical trial, of which Dr Bambling is a co- investigator, is trying to conclusively determine if a “one- two punch” of probiotics and another compound can ameliorate depression through the gut.
Prof Sarnyai said, beyond nutrition, other studies had found exercise helped those struggling with mental illness.