Town Square

Post a New Topic

Could Teen Suicide be Cause by Diet?

Original post made by Susan Hong on Jan 27, 2011

As a recent mom who's time mostly revolves around trying to feed my 1.5 year old son to help him grow, I thought maybe I would share this possibility in an effort to try and help solve the suicide mystery. I have yet to see any newspaper discuss this possibility, so here's a starter perhaps.

Here's an excerpt from a Dr. Mercola that some readers may know of or not agree with, but I found the topic compelling enough to share with the public.

Could depression and suicide have something to do with what teens eat? Or should I rephrase, fail to eat?

Omega-3 deficiency could be a contributing factor to deteriorating mental health. Along with vitamin D deficiency, which also plays an important role.

NOW Toronto also touches on the subject of omega-3 fats and violence in a recent article stating:

"Hamburgers and fries are rarely accused of causing violent behavior in male youth who subsist on them. But the standard junk food diet of North America is dangerously low in many nutrients, notably the omega fatty acids found most easily in fish and walnuts, fats that were likely crucial in early human evolution.

I say "dangerously low" not only because of the body's physical need for such fats, but because these fats deliver mental health benefits that counter depression. Washington-based National Institute of Health clinician Joseph Hibbeln created a momentary stir in 2001 with research showing lower murder rates among prisoners who ate fish regularly.

Harvard's Andrew Stoll wrote about EFAs as "the new pharmacology of aggression" in his 2001 book, The Omega-3 Connection, and expressed "hope that at least part of the answer" to such problems as intermittent explosive disorder "may be as simple as omega-3 fatty acid."

Research has shown that low plasma concentrations of DHA (a type of omega-3 fat) is associated with low concentrations of brain serotonin. This decreased amount of serotonin can be associated with depression and suicide.

In fact, not getting enough omega-3 fats is known to change the levels and functioning of both serotonin and dopamine (which plays a role in feelings of pleasure), as well as compromise the blood-brain barrier, which normally protects your brain from unwanted matter gaining access. Omega-3 deficiency can also decrease normal blood flow to your brain, an interesting finding given that studies show people with depression have compromised blood flow to a number of brain regions.

Finally, omega-3 deficiency also causes a 35 percent reduction in brain phosphatidylserine (PS) levels, which is relevant considering that PS has documented antidepressant activity in humans. Fish used to be the ideal food for obtaining omega-3 in your diet.

Comments (16)

Posted by Sally, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 27, 2011 at 8:18 am

For this to be a viable theory it would require that only Palo Alto teens have a diet low in nutrients as compared to teens in other communities across the nation. Why would teens in East Palo Alto, Mountain View, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Jose, etc. all have better diets than teens in Palo Alto?

Sorry, this doesn't pass the common sense test.


Posted by Susan Hong, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2011 at 8:34 am

Sally, thank you for contributing and great point. Anyway, it was just a thought. Perhaps Palo Alto students, who are under so much pressure to perform, require a high level of nutrients to compete. When they do not depression sets in? Yes, perhaps too far fetched. It is a complex issue and I do not claim to know all the answers. I am just a mom. But I do think good nutrition is important to mental health. :) Thanks.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 27, 2011 at 8:42 am

Agree with Sally. We weren't eating more Omega 3s when we grew up and teen suicides were unheard of. How about Japan? They have their share of suicides and they eat a lot of fish.

It's the stressful society and academic pressure which is killing our teens today.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 27, 2011 at 9:34 am

Interesting discussion, thanks for raising this point.

I don't think diet can cause suicide thoughts. However, I do agree that it can be a factor. The American teenage diet is not as it should be, pizza, burgers, fries and other junk foods are consumed by our kids much too much regardless of their income group. This was not the case when we were growing up. Whether or not it is down to fish in the diet, or not eating enough good starches, or fruits and vegetables, our kids are eating a poor number and variety of foods in the average week.

When we bring stress into the equation it could be that their diet is not giving them some of the mechanism they need to cope with it and it is dealing with stress, of all types, which may be the common denominator here.

Trying to get our kids to eat healthy, as well as sleep well and have time for play is definitely worth considering for teen well being.


Posted by ACS Staff, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2011 at 10:25 am

Please visit the homepage at www.acs-teens.org for links to important information on the risk factors and warning signs of teen suicide.


Posted by Fireman aj, a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2011 at 10:43 am

Children carry the shame for their adults and their community
It is the environment that would seem to be the stress-er in this case. Growing up is hard for most children in Palo Alto it is even a tougher experience.
A huge number of Palo Alto residents are two faced hypocrites, they talk about community, talk about being fair, talk about being kind and so much more. They want you to live by their shallow rules, step out of line or say anything negative about Palo Alto and they will get you, attack you because if your ideas differ from theirs you must be wrong.
The children of PA Adults see that they may someday be like the adults in Palo Alto and they can not think of being so cruel and heartless and it makes them sad. The do not want to turn into their parents and they see no hope. They see a wealthy city with a huge number of resources stumble and bumble their way thought trying to run a city. The city leaders see that Palo Alto has money and they come here to build their own personal empires, they see that the citizens in Palo Alto will do nothing to stop them and are easy pickings for them to get over on and then run out of town on. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Average Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2011 at 1:17 pm

How timely. Just today, I read the following article on a study that found a link between a diet high in transfat, or saturated fat, and depression.

Web Link


Posted by Average Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2011 at 1:59 pm

And another interesting article.

Record Level of Stress Found in College Freshmen

Web Link


Posted by Susan Hong, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2011 at 8:20 pm

At the risk of being further ridiculed for bring up this subject food, stress, and teen suicides, I am going to post an excerpt from this fascinating book that I am currently reading, entitled, "Nutrition and Mental Illness", by Carl Pfeiffer, PhD, MD. I just came across this today.

In chapter 5, he talks about B6 and Zinc, the missing link. He writes the following:
Perhaps the most significant discovery in the nutritional treatment of mental illness is that many depressed and mentally ill people are deficient in vitamin B6 and zinc. But this deficiency is no ordinary deficiency that is simply corrected by eating more foods that are rich in zinc and B6. It is connected with the abnormal production of a group of chemicals called "pyroles."

Pfeiffer goes on to describe a couple cases of teens who tried to commit suicide. He wrote, "when all else failed, trace metal levels were run on his (one teen's) blood serum. The zinc was 65 mcg percent (our normal beign 100-120), and copper was 185 (our normal being 100 mcg percent for males). The teens were found to be zinc and vitamin B6 deficient. They were found to have Pyroluria. Their treatment was zinc and vitamin B6.

Pyroluria is a stress-induced disorder, according to Pfeiffer, the symptoms of which usually diminish when the degree of stress is lessened. "Pyroluria can be a lifelong disorder, with ... teenage depression or delinquency. Most adults can predict and recognize stress in their life. For the child, the parent must recognize stressful situations and, if possible, circumvent the stress. The stressful time for teenagers may be the first love affair, either homo- or heterosexual (loss of virginity, homo-sexual panic), or teh act of leaving home to live in a dormitory in college. Joining the armed forces is stressful and may precipitate illness if the patient is pyroluric."

There's a lot more to the book than just these short excerpts. But I thought just maybe, this information might be useful for someone. May our children be healthy and happy all the days of their lives.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 27, 2011 at 9:32 pm

So we just need to be sure to feed our kids multi-vitamins and Omega-3 pills for them to be mentally happy? Woohoo! Wish it were that easy.

Still, thanks for posting, Susan, especially with your topic sentence.


Posted by fireman aj, a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2011 at 12:14 pm

And stop feeding them your Palo Alto BS with Kool-aide.

Diet does play a role, however, you fail to put that role into perspective.

Like the saying guns kill people, yes they do. However it is the person pointing that gun and pulling the trigger that does the most damage.

Well in Palo Alto common sense is not on the menu.


Posted by fireman aj, a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Now do you really think a straw (1) broke the camels back?


Posted by VoiceOfReason, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 8, 2011 at 10:18 am

No.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 9, 2011 at 8:37 am

Ask yourself what is different about teens in the communities that surround Palo Alto, who attend both public and private schools. There is one big difference: only Palo Alto public high school students have first semester final exams after winter break, after a three day weekend, which results in Palo Alto kids never having a real break from academic stress during the school year.


Posted by Appreciate the inquiry, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Dear Ms. Hong ~

I appreciate your attempt to understand the factors that may result in suicide.

I agree that a proper diet is important for overall good health and that a poor diet can contribute to poor physical and mental health.

However, I don't think that there is enough evidence (if any) that the suicides in our community are a direct cause of poor diet. I wish it were that simple...


Posted by JANET CHIN, a resident of another community
on Jun 13, 2011 at 2:56 am

Education about stress and academic pressure maybe one concern. The Asian Americans have a higher percentage of suicide in the U.S. due to pressures in school, home life, cultural influences are all factors but diet is not one of them.


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Most Seniors do not Need Senior Housing But Could Benefit from other Choice to Remain in Palo Alto
By Steve Levy | 49 comments | 2,033 views

Custom pizza joint on its way to Mountain View
By Elena Kadvany | 5 comments | 1,851 views

"The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden"
By Anita Felicelli | 0 comments | 1,209 views

I Spy
By Cheryl Bac | 6 comments | 1,091 views

The Cinderella ride
By Sally Torbey | 10 comments | 834 views