Maintaining a proper diet is vital to help manage anxiety, but exactly which foods are the most effective in doing so? A recent study published in Nutrients suggests that Atlantic salmon might be a powerful food to combat stress and anxiety. Led by Anita L. Hansen, a team of researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway examined the effects the fish had on a group of prisoners.

Eating Atlantic Salmon Three Times a Week

Of the 95 prisoners eligible for the study, the team diagnosed 76 percent with a personality disorder, 31 percent with an anxiety disorder, and 18 percent with depression. Roughly 31 percent of the participants showed a comorbidity of disorders. With 43 inmates serving as a control for the experiment, the other 42 were served 150 to 300g of farmed Atlantic salmon for dinner three times a week for 23 weeks. The control group ate meals consisting of chicken, pork, or beef. For the course of the study, the inmates' heart rates and state anxiety levels were monitored.

Lower Heart Rates and Happier Inmates

At the end of the 23 weeks, the researchers found that eating more Atlantic salmon improved heart rate variability, lowered heart rates, and reduced state anxiety in the prisoners. Although the change in diet decreased state anxiety, it had no effects on trait anxiety. The difference between the two is that trait anxiety is more involved with one's personality, while state anxiety is sensitive to a situation. And because of this, Hansen notes that “trait-anxiety may be more difficult to change during a six month intervention."

Hansen acknowledges that the positive changes in health may be attributed to an increase in vitamin D. If this is the case, supplementing vitamin D could help with anxiety. However, Atlantic salmon provides many other essential nutrients such as omega-3, iodine, selenium, and various proteins. Further research needs to be completed in order to identify which vitamins and proteins are deficient in highly anxious individuals.

Date of original publication: .

Updated on October 23, 2015.

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