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...

In addition, the U.S. Army recently awarded the duo almost $1 million to study the effects of giving omega-3 supplements to a special-operations unit that spends a third of the year in combat. They will give half the unit the omega-3 supplements and the other half a placebo, every day for a year, and then follow them for a couple of months to see if the omega-3s might prevent occurrences of depression and suicidal thinking. Hibbeln calls it giving “nutritional armor to the war fighter.” They’re also looking at whether it might protect a soldier should he or she suffer traumatic brain injury—not an unlikely occurrence for special-ops persons who jump from planes and engage in combat.

Hibbeln doesn’t fight wars in the traditional sense, but as an officer in the public health service, he’s been serving on the front lines of mental-health research for the last 17 years. “Joe truly wants to help people with his science,” says Norman Salem, Hibbeln’s former boss and mentor. “And he’s got a lot of great ideas and great data.”

What drives him? “I am motivated by a very strong sense of duty,” says Hibbeln. (He mentions finding role models in his mother, a librarian; his father, a World War II vet who fought in Okinawa for 63 days straight; and his scoutmaster, Herb Wittenborn, also a WWII vet.) “Since I have the ability to do it, it is my duty to create the best science,” says Hibbeln. “That’s why I wear this uniform.”

His government-issued dress, he tells me, is a daily reminder of the people he’s committed to serving: veterans with PTSD, violent alcoholics, people with depression, underprivileged mothers who need access to foods that will maximize their children’s potential. He points out the window to a man on the island of a busy intersection, holding a sign asking for money. “That’s my boss. That’s the guy I’m working for.”

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