Anglers already know that fishing is good for the soul, but now scientists suspect that eating fish may also stave off depression. A new study recently published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that a diet rich in seafood may curb the risk of depression by as much as 17 percent.

“Depression affects an estimated 350 million people worldwide, and is projected to become the second leading cause of ill health by 2020,” the researchers, led by Dongfeng Zhang of Qingduao University in China, stated in a press release. “Several previous studies have looked at the possible role of dietary factors in modifying depression risk, but the findings have been inconsistent and inconclusive.”

Researchers pooled together data from surveys taken across the globe. They found that in Europe particularly, fish contributed to a significant reduction in the likelihood for depression. The study did not specify why the same results were not seen from participants elsewhere, but speculated that it may have been due to differences in fish species, cooking styles, or even as a result of limited data.

Based on the European studies alone, researchers say that those with the most fish in their diet have a 17 percent reduced chance of depression when compared to those who ate the least amount of fish.

“When the researchers looked specifically at gender, they found a slightly stronger association between high fish consumption and lowered depression risk in men (20%). Among women, the associated reduction in risk was 16%,” the study stated.

Dongfeng Zhang and his colleagues suspect that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish could alter the microstructure of brain membranes, and even affect the behavior of the neurotransmitters—dopamine and serotonin—that are involved in depression. It may be possible that a fishy diet will promote activity from these neurotransmitters to induce a sense of contentment and well-being.

The researchers concluded that while the study resulted in no definitive conclusions, the implications were certainly interesting enough for further study. The team will also be looking into which specific fish species can lead to greater mental health.

Fighting depression is not the only benefit of a fishy diet. Fish is often called “brain food,” as omega-3 fatty acids help strengthen and protect brain cells. More recently, researchers have found that the same fatty acids can also protect against alcohol-induced brain damage and even reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

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