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has been increasing concern about the rapidly rising levels of mental illness
being experienced by adolescents. Depression is now the leading cause of
disability in the workplace superceding bad backs and heart disease.

It is
estimated that one in five Australians will experience an episode of metal
illness in any given year. It is one in four for the younger age group.


is it about our way of life that could be contributing to this? Is it simply
that our super stressed, super connected lifestyle is to blame. I suspect that
has a lot to do with it. But there may be other factors at play here as well.

it comes down to diet. Yes, what you eat has an impact on your health, your
mood and your wellbeing. No big surprises here, because the food we eat
essentially provides the essential nutrients our body and brain requires to
function normally.

our diet has changed considerably in a relatively short time frame over the
last couple of decades, where in fitting with our fast lifestyle, we are eating
increased quantities of fast foods; more highly processed and packaged food
designed and manufactured to make our taste buds respond in a way to persuade
us to eat more of it.

it’s not just what we are eating today. Increasing scientific evidence has revealed
how epigenetics plays a very important role in determining our health and
outcomes. We have a set of genetic material, which is highly influenced by our
epigenome, which determines which genes get switched on or off and how strongly
or weakly they are expressed. Moreover it has been shown that what we eat or how we live as adults will determine the future health
and wellbeing of our kids. This has
already been reported in the areas of diabetes and obesity.

recent study from the States has examined the role of diet in adolescents in
determining behaviour and risk of psychiatric disorder, including stress,
anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.

was a study conducted on rodents, so the findings need to be examined in the
light of the fact this is not human data. However their findings support the
need for further study to examine how much our diet (and that of our parents) may
play a role at a critical time of brain development.

back to the role of parents. Many of todays teenagers have parents who were
born in the 1960’s and 1970’s. That was at a time when farming cattle moved
from being predominantly grass fed to grain fed and when it became more common
to use corn oil and soy oil in food manufacturing. These oils in particular are
deficient in omega three. Grass contains omega three so yes, grain fed cattle
have lower amounts of these. Consuming foods with less omega three has then led
to subsequent generations who are slightly more omega three deficient.

impact of this was demonstrated in the study where the researchers applied a
set of behavioural tasks examining learning, memory, decision-making, anxiety
and hyperactivity of both adults and adolescents. What they found was that the
omega three deficient adolescents were more anxious and more hyperactive,
learned at a slower rate and had impaired problem solving abilities despite
being in overall good physical health.

should we being taking away from this study?

Diet matters for nutritional and mental (behavioural) health.

What we eat as adults may have an epigenetic effect on our offspring.

The burgeoning levels of mental illness in society whilst multifactorial, may
include nutritional deficiencies particularly of omega three fatty acids, which may play a
role in creating a further inbalance of too much omega six, which is associated with an increased inflammatory response in our body.

Lifestyle matters in addressing all the different aspect of choices we have
availbale to us including physical exercise, stress management and nutrition.

are particularly vulnerable to the risk of schizophrenia and other mental
illness. Addressing their nutritional status, may go some way to assist in
finding a way to lower that risk.

as adults we can help encourage our adolescent offspring to include more omega
three into their diet. The message about the benefits of omega three for
learning and memory is becoming more widely accepted in the population at
large. It may be difficult to persuade a teenager to add more fish into
their diet. They may not like fish or simply prefer burgers or pizza. But
taking a supplement of omega three as a capsule, may prove a little easier
along with discussion about how their behaviour and lifestyle choice may
influence the outcomes of their own children in the next generations to come.




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got to be worth a try.


O. Bondi, Ameer Y. Taha, Jody L. Tock, Nelson K.B. Totah, Yewon Cheon, Gonzalo
E. Torres, Stanley I. Rapoport, Bita Moghaddam Adolescent Behavior and Dopamine
Availability Are Uniquely Sensitive to Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acid Deficiency Biological Psychiatry – 29 July 2013


Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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