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...

Diet-induced epidemic of distress?

In 1995, Hibbeln and Salem published the paper that launched Hibbeln’s career in this field, an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition presenting the theory he had been working out ever since he first held that lump of brain in his hands: mental illness could very well be a result of omega-3 deficiency.

His reasoning is this: The modern American diet is vastly different from the one upon which our ancestors evolved. Our ancestors consumed about equal amounts of omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats, the other polyunsaturated fats (found in vegetable oils) that compete with omega-3s for space in the brain. Today, Americans get 10 to 25 times more omega-6s than omega-3s, partly because we don’t eat as many omega-3-rich fish, such as salmon and sardines (or wild animals, which are also higher in omega-3s), but mostly because our diets now contain processed foods that are packed with omega-6-rich oils, including oils made from soybeans, safflower and corn.

Hibbeln presented the possibility that this dramatic shift could have changed the way our brains function—sort of as if a car designed to run on unleaded gas suddenly started using diesel. Might it even trigger or perpetuate psychiatric illnesses? Hibbeln offers an interesting correlation: statistics suggest that depression and homicide rates have risen steadily over the past century—the same time period during which Americans’ annual per capita intake of omega-6-rich oils increased by nearly 500 percent, from 11 pounds to 64 pounds.

Get a full year of EatingWell magazine.
World Wide Web Health Award Winner Web Award Winner World Wide Web Health Award Winner Interactive Media Award Winner