In an article published in BMC Psychiatry, researchers conducted a cross-sectional study to investigate the correlation between serum oleic acid levels and depression in a multiethnic community from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

The authors wrote, “As the most abundant fatty acid in plasma, oleic acid has been found to be associated with multiple neurological diseases; however, results from studies of the relationship between oleic acid and depression are inconsistent.”

Between 2011-2014, researchers evaluated data from 4,459 adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and using multivariable logistic regression models, the following covariates were adjusted: age, gender, race/ethnicity, education level, marital status, body mass index, physical activity, smoking status, alcohol status, metabolic syndrome, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and total cholesterol.

The authors wrote, “Our research on the relationship between oleic acid levels and depression used a sample pool of adults with marked racial/ethnic diversity from NHANES. To the best of our knowledge, this observational study used the largest sample size to examine the association between oleic acid levels and depression.”

Results revealed that higher serum oleic acid levels were associated with a greater incidence of depression, and after adjusting for all covariates, for every mmol/L increase in levels of oleic acid, the incidence of depression augmented by 40% (unadjusted OR: 1.35, 95% CI: 1.16–1.57; adjusted OR: 1.40, 95% CI: 1.03–1.90).

The authors noted that proposed mechanisms underlying the oleic acid-depression correlation may be related to neuroinflammation, neurotransmitter disorders, and nerve cell damage. They wrote, “These are the possible mechanisms; as a cross-sectional analysis based on the NHANES database, we were unable to validate the above mechanisms. We will explore the mechanisms underlying the oleic acid-depression relationship in future studies (e.g., exploring the role that resilience plays).”

Moreover, the authors indicated that obtaining a better understanding of the correlation between oleic acid and depression may result in the development of novel preventive and therapeutic approaches.

Based on their findings, the authors concluded, “A better understanding of the role of oleic acid in depression may lead to new preventive and therapeutic methods. Thus, carefully designed prospective studies are necessary to explore the positive effects of changing serum oleic acid levels through diet, medicine, or other measures on depression.”

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