Eating fruit and vegetables lessens risk of suicide, say Japanese researchers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 1:37am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 2:30am

People with a higher proportion of fruit and vegetables in their diets have a significantly lower risk of committing suicide, according to new research by scientists in Japan.

The study, conducted over a period of 81/2 years, is the first in the world to examine the association between dietary patterns and suicide risk. It concludes that eating fruit and vegetables is associated with a greatly reduced risk of suicide. In some cases, the risk appeared to have been more than halved.

The research was co-ordinated by the National Centre for Global Health and Medicine in Tokyo, and monitored the eating habits of nearly 90,000 people aged between 45 and 74. Around 60 per cent of those who took part were women.

Participants in the study were divided into four categories depending on the amount of vegetables, fruit and seaweed that they consumed each day. In all, the scientists monitored intakes of 124 food and beverage items through a daily questionnaire.

"Among both men and women, a 'prudent' dietary pattern characterised by a high intake of vegetables, fruits, potatoes, soy products, mushrooms, seaweed and fish was associated with a decreased risk of suicide," the scientists stated in their report, published in the December edition of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The results show that the suicide risk for both men and women in the group that ate the most fruit and vegetables was less than half that for the group with the lowest consumption.

The study was led by the centre's Dr Akiko Nanri but included input from universities and medical research organisations across Japan.

Nanri said it was difficult to determine precisely a relationship between dietary habits and suicide, but pointed out that fruit and vegetables contained folic acid and vitamin C, both of which have been credited with alleviating the symptoms of depression.

Foods rich in folic acid, which is given to pregnant women to help in the development of their baby, include spinach, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, bananas, oranges, peaches, lentils, almonds, wheat flour and potatoes. The best sources of vitamin C are chilli peppers, guavas, bell peppers, fresh herbs, dark leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, kiwi fruit, papayas, oranges and strawberries.

Last year, Japan's suicide rate dipped below the rate of 30,000 deaths a year for the first time in 15 years. Traditionally, financial and work-related problems have been cited as the cause of most people taking their own lives, with 70 per cent of victims men. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men aged between 20 and 44.

Depression brought on by work pressures or economic problems may be exacerbated by a poor diet, the scientists' findings indicate.

"Our findings suggest that a prudent dietary pattern may be associated with a decreased risk of death from suicide," the report concludes.