New Science Links Food and Happiness

By Rachael Moeller Gorman, "Captain of the Happier Meal," May/June 2010

Joe Hibbeln, M.D., believes our diet is making us depressed, addicted and violent. He thinks he’s found a simple solution.

"I believe in Joe Hibbeln 's work, it should be actively promoted. A UK study by Nick Fisher of the effects of a one- month high Omega-3 diet on a prison population showed mood improvement. The charismatic wit and humour of both Nick and...

During his last year of medical school, Hibbeln reached out to Salem, who told him something that forever changed his career path: our bodies do not produce DHA or other omega-3s from scratch; we have to get them from food. These words opened up a whole new avenue of inquiry for Hibbeln, and he jumped into researching how the fats we eat (or don’t eat) might change our brain.

He was especially interested in mental illness. He has a family member with mental illness and in 1985, his parents, Raymond and Shirley, helped found the first national support group for families dealing with mental illness, what’s now called the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

We careen through the streets of Bethesda and finally pull up to a guard station at the National Naval Medical Center, where we are meeting Colonel Mike Lewis, M.D., M.P.H., one of Hibbeln’s collaborators, to talk about some new studies. A soldier in dusty fatigues salutes and waves us in. “Sir, very good sir.” Hibbeln returns the salute. Hibbeln tells me that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression in the U.S. military are affecting 20 percent of those who have been deployed. He points to construction vehicles and men in hard hats who swarm around the medical center. “They’re building new treatment facilities to capture this flood of psychiatric distress,” he says. “If I can get the military to change their diet, show that it works to reduce depression and suicide there, then there’s a great potential for societal change.”

After a few hair-raising attempts to secure parking, we find Lewis in the waiting area for Pulmonary Medicine. He and Hibbeln recently received Department of Defense funds to compare blood samples from 800 servicepeople who committed suicide between 2002 and 2008 to those of 800 healthy people in the military (matched by age, sex and rank) to see if low omega-3 levels are linked with likelihood of suicide. No results yet.

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