New study re-evaluates anxiety disorder related factors

A new study examining the information collected from a large, representative Canadian adult cohort over the age of 45 found correlations between the risk of diet and anxiety disorder. Certain factors linked to anxiety included the biological sex of an person and whether or not they were an immigrant.

Recent research pinpoints some of the top factors that may contribute to a person’s risk of anxiety.

A study conducted in 2015 showed that anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions in the USA and Europe.

Every year, 18.1 percent of the U.S. population reports living with an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

According to the most recent estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015, 3.6 percent of the entire population lives with an anxiety disorder worldwide.

Researchers constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the factors that could contribute to a person’s risk of developing an anxiety disorder in an effort to provide strategies for prevention.

A team of researchers from various institutions— including the Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey and the University of Toronto, both in Canada— recently conducted a study assessing significant associations between different factors and the likelihood of an anxiety disorder developing.

The team reports the findings of the study in a paper now published in the International Journal of Public Health and Environmental Science.

“Anxiety disorders, which are a leading cause of disability, are estimated to affect 10 per cent of the global population,” reports lead author Karen Davison, Ph.D.

“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.”

– Karen Davison, Ph.D.

Findings link diet and anxiety risk

The researchers analyzed in their analysis the data of 26,991 individuals who participated in the 2010–2015 Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging.

For these, 49.3 percent were male, 82.5 percent were born in Canada and between 45–65 percent were 58.5 percent. 8.5 per cent of the participant cohort reported dealing with an anxiety disorder.

The researchers analyzed the knowledge they obtained from the participants through interviews, physical assessments and laboratory tests.

This analysis revealed a number of important correlations between some variables and the likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder— some of which confirmed findings from previous studies.

For starters, the investigators found that individuals who have not eaten much fruit and vegetables are more likely to have an anxiety disorder than those who have a high intake of fruit and vegetables.

“There were at least 24 per cent higher odds of anxiety disorder diagnosis for those who ate fewer than three sources of fruits and vegetables daily,” says the lead author.

Co-author Jose Mora-Almanza states that this result may shed some light on a number of other factors that have anxiety associations.

“This may also explain in part the results associated with measures of body composition,” he says, adding that”[ t]he levels of total body fat increased beyond 36 percent, the risk of anxiety disorder increased by more than 70 percent.”

The lead author of the study also hypothesizes that if a diet deficient in fruit and vegetables leads to an increase in body fat, this may in turn lead to an increase in body fat. Studies has linked anxiety to inflammation.

Income, other health conditions may count

The results of the studies supported existing evidence to suggest that women are more likely for experience anxiety. 1 in 9 women participants had an anxiety disorder according to the new study. In contrast, only one out of every 15 male participants lived with anxiety.

“Our findings are consistent with previous research which also showed that women are more vulnerable to anxiety disorders than men,” says co-author of the study, Prod. To Karen Kobayashi.

Specific social groups have shown to have a greater chance of living with an anxiety disorder.

For example, the study found that individuals had 27 per cent higher chances of developing an anxiety disorder relative to married peers.

It also stated the people with lower incomes were more vulnerable to these mental health conditions. According to the data from the study, 1 in 5 participants live with an anxiety disorder with a household income of under $20,000 per annum. The number is more than twice as high as that seen by higher-income participants.

“We were not surprised to find that those in poverty have such a high prevalence of anxiety disorders; struggling to afford essentials, such as food and housing, causes intense stress and is potentially anxious-inducing,” says co-author Hongmei Tong, PhD.

People with three or more chronic conditions of health were also more likely to experience an anxiety disorder compared to peers who had no health conditions.

Among those with anxiety, 16.4% had three other health conditions, 8.3% had two other health conditions, 6.3% had another health condition, and only 3% registered no coexisting health conditions.

In comparison, people dealing with chronic pain had double the incidence of peers with no chronic pain.

“Chronic pain and multiple health conditions make life very unpredictable and can cause anxiety,” co-author Shen Lin points out.

“One never knows if health issues are going to interfere with work or family obligations, and many tasks are becoming more stressful and time consuming,” he adds.

Immigrants may face lower risk, but why?

Interestingly, the researchers found that one social group with lower chances of developing an anxiety disorder was that of immigrants.

According to the surveys analysed by the team, there was a lower prevalence of anxiety among people who had not been born in Canada but migrated there. The results showed 6.4 percent of immigrants had an anxiety disorder, compared to 9.3 percent of respondents born in Canada.

“Immigrants may face a variety of challenges associated with resettling in a new country, including language barriers, deprivation, difficulties in gaining recognition of qualifications and limited social support, so it seems counterintuitive that they should have a lower likelihood of anxiety disorders than those born in Canada,” says senior author Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson of the report.

The investigator hypothesizes this can be because, given all the difficulties and uncertainties associated with moving to a new country, those who choose to take this step may predominantly be highly resilient individuals.

“Possible immigrants with anxiety disorders may consider the migration obstacles too anxiety-inducing and would therefore not choose to immigrate, so there is a’ self-selection’ for those with a lower anxiety,” the senior author suggests.

Reflecting on the study findings, the researchers write in their report that”[ t]he identified social, wellness, and nutritional factors associated with anxiety disorders provide useful information for[ middle-aged] and older adults to enhance targeted outreach and care.”

We also conclude that more research, especially into food, should be conducted by mental health experts.

“Dietary factors, such as intakes of fiber, calcium, and vitamin D, require further research to better understand their possible relationship to anxiety disorders,” the authors write.

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