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Nutrition, Demographics May Influence PTSD Experience

February 23, 2021

Interventions aimed at managing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in middle age and older adults should consider nutritional health, ethnicity, and immigrant, marital, and socioeconomic status, according to a study published online in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

Researchers analyzed data from the baseline Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, which included 27,211 participants with a mean age of 65 years. Of those participants, 1323 had been diagnosed with PTSD.

Participants aged 48 to 85 years who consumed an average of 2 to 3 fiber sources daily were less likely to exhibit PTSD, the study found. Conversely, researchers found an increased likelihood of PTSD in people with daily consumption of pastries, pulses and nuts, or chocolate.

"It is possible that optimal levels of dietary fiber have some type of mental health-related protective effect," said Karen Davison, PhD, MSc, RD, CHES, Director, Nutrition Informatics Research Group, and Health Science Program Faculty Member, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. "This may be due to the communication network that connects the gut and brain via short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which are metabolic byproducts of bacterial fermentation made by microbes in the human gut."

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After adjusting for ethnicity and immigrant status, the odds of PTSD were higher among those with lower household incomes, widowed, divorced, or separated respondents, those who were ever smokers, had multi-morbidities, chronic pain, high nutritional risk, or who reported daily consumptions of pastries, pulses and nuts, or chocolate.

"This is consistent with results from other studies, which found increased risks of cardiovascular, metabolic, and musculoskeletal conditions among individuals with PTSD," states co-author Meghan West, a Master of Social Work student at the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. "These links may be due to alterations in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), sympathetic nervous system inflammation, or health behaviors that increase the risk of poor physical health."

Participants from minority groups had significantly higher odds of PTSD than those born in Canada, whereas white immigrants had lower odds of PTSD.

"Visible minority immigrants in Canada are largely from South Asia, China, and the Middle East, where groups of individuals have experienced political conflict and/or disruption during the previous 60 years," said co-author Hongmei Tong, PhD, MSW, RSW, Assistant Professor of Social Work at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

"Immigrants from these regions are also more likely to have experienced traumatic incidents such as natural disasters and armed conflict, and could be at greater risk of PTSD as a result. As such, there may be a greater need for mental health resources for visible minority immigrants.”

—Meagan Thistle


Davison KM, Hyland CE, West ML, et al. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in mid-age and older adults differs by immigrant status and ethnicity, nutrition, and other determinants of health in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA). Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. 2021 February 3;[Epub ahead of print].

Experiences of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) linked to nutritional health [press release]. University of Toronto; February 03, 2021.

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