Find me a Cold Spot for Depression

February 01, 2014

Find Me a Cold  Spot for Depression 

 Reference  The Jungle Effect by Daphne Miller 

 It’s February in just about the coldest winter in decades.  We’ve been cooped up forever and are all just feeling strung out.  The “mid-winter blahs” are upon all of us.  You wouldn’t be faulted for claiming yourself to be a bit depressed.  Then, would it surprise you if I told you that Iceland, much further north, much darker and more dreary in winter, is a “cold spot” for depression, meaning it has less than half the depression of much of the rest of the world?  

 I would think they would all be grabbing tickets for Cancun.   Not so.  Those cheerful Icelanders seem to do just fine in winter and have a sunny attitude about it.  They aren’t depressed.   How! Now, an interesting aside is that a whole bunch of Icelanders immigrated to Canada in the first part of the last century and set up shop in places like Gimli, Manitoba.  What happened to them there?  They got depressed in winter, just like the local Canadians of Scotch Irish descent.  

It’s not their genes, it's the environment of Iceland.  The immigrants lost the environmental effects of food and started eating a Canadian diet. Alright, research the environment of Iceland and what do you find?   Everyone eats fish.  Lots of fish.  Every day, every meal. Fish.  Fresh caught, north Atlantic Char, cod, salmon, herring.  And measure their blood levels of omega three fatty acids and what do you find?  Their levels of omega threes are on the order of three times ours here in North America.   And Hibblen studied fish consumption by nation and found as much as a 60 fold variation from nation to nation, all tied to the amount of fish they ate. 

 Is fish the only reason they have less depression in Iceland?  There are parts of Iceland that don’t eat fish and eat virtually nothing but lamb.   Again, review of their lamb shows that it is raised on Icelandic moss pastures and has some of the highest omega-3 fat contents found in red meat animals.  Their lambs aren’t fed on corn and beans, which flush out the omega threes – but rather dowdy, ordinary local potent moss.   The cows eat that too.  Guess what their mild contains?  You got it.  Milk in Iceland is loaded with omega-3 fats. Your brain is loaded with omega-3 fats.  Our American diet has had a dramatic loss of omega-3s as our animals have been raised on corn and beans (no omega threes) instead of grass.  

The hottest topic in psychiatry now is that depression is an inflammatory disease.  Omega-three fats are the precursors to making anti-inflammatory eicosinoids.  AKA: turn off depression.   We are able to measure the American brain containing less omega-3s than it used to.  And we know our food has changed.  The question remains, does bringing the food back reduce the depression? 

 WWW. What will work for me?  Well, I certainly have found I make it through winter easier when I have some Vitamin D.  But I started taking fish oil at the same time.  Which was it?  I’m determined to up my intake a bit more.  Two grams a day of DHA and EPA is what a teaspoon of liquid provides.  That’s still less than 2 oz a day of salmon.  Piddling little dose for those Icelanders.  8 oz of liquid D a day for a month would be a better trial!

Pop Quiz

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1.  Depression has similar rates all around the world?  T or F                  Answer:  Dramatically false. Some societies have much lower rates.
 2.   Iceland is one of the world's "Cold Spots" meaning it has much less depression than other places? T or F                         Answer:  True
 3.   Icelanders, who immigrated to Canada still have little depression?  T or F                        Answer:    False. They have the same rates as the Canadians around them, despite living in a similar winter climate to Iceland.  Major difference, they eat much less fish.
 4.   Icelanders eat fish day in and day out, and most of it is fresh, ocean fish with abundant EPA and DHA content.   T or F                       Answer:  True
 5.   Icelanders have higher blood levels of DHA and EPA than we do in North America.  T or F   Answer:    Almost triple.
 6.   Fish oil (DHA and EPA) is a criical ingredient in your brain, comprising as much as 40% of the dry weight of your brain.  T or F                         Answer:   Wow. True
 7.   DHA is the precursor molecule for your body to make anti-inflammatory messages in your body?  T or F                         Answer:   True
 8.  Depression may be considered an inflammatory disease of the brain?  T or F                    Answer:   Just go to any recent American Society of Psychiatry Meeting
 9.  You can get good DHA and EPA from Grass Raised lamb or grass raised dairy cow? T or F Answer:   True on both accounts.

Column written by John Whitcomb, MD at Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI.