By Tess Sohngen, For The Miami Student
Recent research indicates a correlation between deficiencies of important nutrients in college students’ diets with feelings of depression, a growing issue on college campuses across the nation.
According to PsychCentral, a professional mental health website, 44 percent of college students reported feeling symptoms of depression and 30 percent reported difficultly functioning because they felt too depressed. A lack of certain nutrients in students is believed to be contributing to those feelings of anxiety and sadness.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics discovered a link between depression and low levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in the blood. Omega-3 fatty acids are classified as essential, and can only be obtained by consumption, according to Janice Thompson and Melinda Manore’s book “Nutrition, An Applied Approach.”
Although research has supported the notion that omega-3s are healthy, the link to the nutrient’s psychological benefits is still unclear.
“It’s an association, it’s not a cause,” Mary Elizabeth Miller, Miami University visiting assistant professor of the College of Education, Health and Society, said of the relationship between depression and omega-3 fatty acids.
Miller emphasized that omega-3 deficiencies will not necessarily cause depression, but researchers have found that people with depression often have an omega-3 deficiency.
Oily fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel, as well as flax seed, walnuts and soybeans are the best sources of these essential nutrients.
Typical American college student diets do not include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
“I only eat one of those—salmon,” first-year business-economics major Alex Stevenson said when shown a list of the 10 foods highest in omega-3s. Stevenson said although he eats very few food items rich in omega-3s, he still thinks he gets enough.
Despite Stevenson’s optimism, most students do not consume enough omega-3s according to Miller, who said the recommended intake is six ounces per week ― the equivalent of about two servings of a food high in omega-3s.
Other food items high in omega-3s include broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and kale.
For those who don’t take in omega-3s regularly, dietary supplements are viable option. However, Miller warned that multi-vitamins are a safer choice than dietary supplements because they contain a variety of nutrients, whereas a single-nutrient supplement could result in overconsumption.
Along with the omega-3 fatty acid, the Dietetic Association also links B6 and B12 vitamin deficiencies with depression.
“We see people who are deficient in particularly B6 and B12 having some issues with depression,” Miller said, although research has yet to determine if a cause-effect relationship exists.
Among the several metabolic processes vitamin B6 aids in the body, Mayo Clinic says that taking vitamin B6 supplements may also improve premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, such as depression, in women.
“I honestly don’t know how many calories I consume in one meal, nor about how many B6 and B12 milligrams I consume,” first-year Creative Writing major Mayu Nakano said, pointing out her doubt that many students pay attention to the nutritional content of their food.
According to Thompson and Manore’s book, some of the highest B6-containing food sources that students can include in their diets consist of sunflower seeds, pistachio nuts, tuna fish, poultry, lean pork or lean beef, dried prunes and bananas.
“Good nutrition helps to prevent chronic disease ― depression being something that can be chronic in so many different ways,” Miller said. “So by just having a variety of food in our diet and healthful-type foods, it can really go a long way to helping us feel better and preventing diseases.”