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...

Now Hibbeln and some colleagues are looking at whether the same thing may hold true for alcoholics. (Alcohol breaks down omega-3 fats, depleting the body’s supply.) To find out, Hibbeln and his team recruited 90 aggressive alcoholics. The volunteers underwent 30 days of in-patient rehabilitation, followed by 90 days of out-patient therapy with or without DHA+EPA supplements (the “without” group got placebo pills). By changing levels of neurotransmitters, omega-3s might help remedy issues underlying these subjects’ alcoholism, namely depression, says Hibbeln, noting that it might also make them less violent. “If you treat their underlying depression and irritability and restore their brain DHA,” Hibbeln asks, “will that assist them in reducing their drinking?”

Hibbeln can’t say yet, as he’s still analyzing the results of the study. He does, however, offer up an anecdotal account of one man for whom the omega-3 doses seemed to make a profound, positive impact.

When “Mr. D.,” in his early sixties, was referred to Hibbeln’s study by a homeless shelter, he’d been living on the streets or in prison for 25 years and had a long history of arrests for physical violence and multiple assault convictions. Basically, says Hibbeln, his daily routine consisted of “panhandling enough money to buy the booze he needed to get really drunk and go to sleep.”

After “drying out” for 30 days, Mr. D. underwent baseline tests that found the omega-3 levels in his body to be “profoundly low,” says Hibbeln. He was randomly assigned to the group that got the omega-3 supplements. The first thing the nurses and staff noted was that he looked healthier and happier.

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