Low fat diets have been associated with increased risks of depression and suicide. This correlation was first noticed decades ago. While going over data in a study of heart disease, researchers where surprised to find that individuals with the lowest cholesterol levels had increased incidences of deaths from suicide, violence and accidents. Since these initial findings, several studies have confirmed a link to low fat diets with depression and impulsive behavior.
The Link to Serotonin
It is thought that low fat diets affect serotonin levels in the brain. However, it is not clear exactly how low fat diets disrupt the serotonin balance. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that works to inhibit impulsive behavior. It is often found that individuals with abnormal serotonin function have thoughts of suicide and impulsive, hostile behavior.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
The rate of depression in the United States has increased in relation to the decrease in consumption of omega 3 fats. These are the fats found in some nuts and oily fish. In recent decades, Americans have consumed less omega 3 fats and more omega 6 fats like those found in vegetable seed oils. Several studies have found that the rate of depression in different countries was directly related to their inhabitants' consumption of fish. Countries with the most fish consumption, such as Japan, Taiwan and Korea, had the lowest incidences of depression.
There was also a study done in which people with recurrent depression were treated with omega 3 supplements in addition to their antidepressant medication. The control group was given sugar pills along with their antidepressants. There were significant improvements in the group that was given the omega 3 supplements. They had an overall better sense of well being and improved sleep patterns compared to the control group.
One recent study suggests that a low fat diet could actually improve mood. This was a study comparing low fat to low carb diets and their affects on mood. The low fat dieters had better overall moods and a sense of well being compared to the low carb dieters. Both groups showed an initial improvement in mood, but the low fat group maintained the improvement throughout the year long study. The low carb group became grumpy after a few weeks on the diet. Some researchers suggest that this study may be flawed and the data should be viewed with caution. A previous study, done in 2007, found that those on a low carb diet had the most improvement in mood.
The Importance of Dietary Fats
Dietary fats are necessary for the proper functioning of all the cells of the body. Brain cell are no exception. Eating a diet that lacks sufficient healthy fats will negatively affect how you look and feel. It is possible that individuals vary in their dietary fat requirements. However, if you have been on a low fat diet and are experiencing dry skin and hair or mood problems, you may want to consider adding more dietary fats back into your diet.
If you are under a physician's care, be sure to check with her before making any dietary changes.