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Eating fish may lower depression risk, study suggests

Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2000

CHICAGO (AP) -- Eat fish, be happy?

A large study in Finland found evidence that people who ate fish less than once a week ran a 31 percent higher chance of mild to severe depression than people who ate it more often.

That's probably because fish contains omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFA, said psychiatrist Dr. Antti Tanskanen of the University of Kuopio in Finland. But it's too early to recommend that people eat fish or take PUFA to avoid depression, he said.

Tanskanen presented his study Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. It was paid for by his university, he said.

The evidence was statistically significant only for women. But Tanskanen said he believes the effect also applies to men, for whom the results leaned in the same direction.

The study involved a random sample of 3,204 adults from four areas of Finland. They filled out a standard questionnaire to measure depressive symptoms and indicated how often they ate fish.

About 30 percent ate fish less than once a week, and so were classified as ''infrequent'' fish consumers. And 28 percent of the overall group reported symptoms suggesting mild or more severe depression, with most in the mild category.

Among women, signs of depression appeared in 34 percent of the infrequent-fish-eater group, compared with 27 percent of the other women. In men, the difference was 30 percent vs. 28.5 percent.

The overall difference of 31 percent emerged after results from the two sexes were combined, and the rates were mathematically adjusted to remove the effect of factors such as age and smoking.

''It's very suggestive,'' but such studies can't really show what causes the differences they find, noted Dr. Alexander Glassman of Columbia University in New York.

Just last year, other researchers reported that capsules of omega-3 fatty acids helped treat manic-depression. And in 1998, one of Tanskanen's co-authors reported that countries with higher per-capita fish consumption tended to have lower rates of major depression.



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