Adults who consume low levels of fruit and vegetables have a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, according to new research from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging.
Researchers also discovered that higher body fat could play a role in increasing the risk. Other factors associated with anxiety disorders among mid-age and older Canadians include gender, marital status, income, immigrant status, and several health issues.
The study team behind the research, which was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, analyzed data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging which included 26,991 men and women between the ages of 45 and 85.
Study lead Karen Davison, health science faculty member, nutrition informatics lab director at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, (KPU) and North American Primary Care Research Group Fellow, said in a press release that an estimated 10 percent of the global population will suffer from anxiety disorders which are a leading cause of disability.
She added: "Our findings suggest that comprehensive approaches that target health behaviors, including diet, as well as social factors, such as economic status, may help to minimize the burden of anxiety disorders among middle-aged and older adults, including immigrants."
Fruit and vegetables
Speaking about the link between fruit and vegetable intake and anxiety, Davidson said: "For those who consumed less than three sources of fruits and vegetables daily, there was at least at 24 percent higher odds of anxiety disorder diagnosis.
"Increased body fat may be linked to greater inflammation. Emerging research suggests that some anxiety disorders can be linked to inflammation."
Co-author Jose Mora-Almanza, a Mitacs Globalink Intern who worked with the study at KPU, added: "This may also partly explain the findings associated with body composition measures. As levels of total body fat increased beyond 36 percent, the likelihood of anxiety disorder was increased by more than 70 percent."
Gender was also found to be a factor: one in nine women had an anxiety disorder compared to one in 15 men.
Co-author Karen Kobayashi, Professor in the Department of Sociology and a Research Affiliate at the Institute on Aging & Lifelong Health at the University of Victoria, said: "Our findings are in keeping with previous research which has also indicated that women are more vulnerable to anxiety disorders than men."
When it comes to income, researchers discovered that approximately one in five respondents with household incomes under $20,000 per year had anxiety disorders, more than double the prevalence of their richer peers.
"We were not surprised to find that those in poverty had such a high prevalence of anxiety disorders; struggling to afford basics such as food and housing causes relentless stress and is inherently anxiety-inducing," said co-author Hongmei Tong, Assistant Professor of Social Work at MacEwan University in Edmonton.
Chronic health conditions
Another factor which increases the risk of anxiety disorders, according to the researchers, is if an individual has chronic conditions, with those who suffer from chronic pain having double the prevalence of anxiety disorders in comparison to those who were free of pain.
Co-author Shen (Lamson) Lin, a doctoral student at University of Toronto's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW), said: "Chronic pain and multiple health conditions make life very unpredictable and can be anxiety-producing. One never knows whether health problems will interfere with work or family responsibilities and many activities become more challenging and time consuming."
The study team notes than a limitation of the study is that 'the assessment of anxiety disorders was based upon self-reporting of a medical diagnosis'.
"The authors also conducted multivariate analyses taking into account the use of a family physician in the past year to address the possibility of under-reporting of anxiety disorders among those who rarely visited health professionals. This adjustment was not found to substantially change the associations discussed above," says the release.