The Relationship between Dietary Intakes of Magnesium, Copper, Iron, Omega-3, and Selenium and Depression among College Students Aged 18-24 Years at George Mason University


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Background: Depression is a common illness that leads to serious outcomes ranging from poor functional performance at work, school, and in family roles, to suicide. Young adult (18-29 years old) depression is a serious health problem. Over twenty percent of young adults have reported depression symptoms in the United States1. Around seventeen percent of American college students are depressed2. For college students, mental health is important for their education and quality of life. About sixty percent of people who have committed suicide previously reported mood disorders such as major depression, bipolar disorder, and dysthymia3. According to WHO (2020)1, suicide is the second leading cause of death among the individuals aged 15-29 years, which is the age when people typically attend college. Nutrition is a modifiable factor that plays an essential role in human psychological health4. It could be a sustainable treatment method for depression with low cost and minimal side effects. Nutrients, such as selenium, copper, iron, magnesium, and omega-3, are reported to have an association with depression. However, studies regarding the intakes of these nutrients and depression are inconclusive. Few studies focused on college students. Thus, the overall purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between dietary nutrient intakes and depression level among college students at George Mason University by 1) evaluating the dietary intakes of selenium, magnesium, copper, iron, and omega-3 among George Mason University college students with different depression levels; and 2) examining whether the extent of dietary intake of these nutrients is related to the severity of depression. Method: This is a cross-sectional study. In total, 205 participants were eligible to be included in this study from the 2019 population of the Mason: Health Starts Here cohort study. The participants were first-year college students aged 18-24 years at George Mason University. Demographic information such as gender, race, BMI, and financial support were collected, and dietary nutrient intake was measured using Dietary History Questionnaire (DHQ-III). Depression level was evaluated by utilizing Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS). Physical activity level was assessed using International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) - short version. SPSS version 28.0 was used to do the statistical analysis. ANOVA was used to compare the differences between the average nutrient intakes and depression levels. Linear regression was to analyze the relationship between dietary nutrient intakes and depression levels. Results: There were no significant differences between depression levels in race, gender, body mass index, physical activity level, and financial support. Compared to the mild and the moderate/severe groups, the none to slight depression group had the highest percentage of the participants (68.1%) with normal BMI. The moderate/severe depression group had the highest percentage of underweight (11.9%) and obese (11.9%) participants. Finally, the mild depression group had the highest percentage of participants being overweight (25%). A greater proportion of participants had low physical activity level as the depression level increased, from 17.6% in the none to slight group to 31.0% in the moderate/severe group. The percentage of participants with high physical activity was higher in the none to slight depressed group (56.3%) compared to the other two groups (mild 40.9% and moderate/severe 50%). Dietary intakes of magnesium, iron, copper, selenium, and omega-3 were not significantly related to depression level. The average intakes of examined nutrients were not significantly different between depression groups. Conclusion: The present study did not find significant between-group differences of the average dietary intakes of magnesium, copper, iron, omega-3, and selenium; nor a significant relationship between dietary intakes of selenium, iron, copper, magnesium, and omega-3 and depression level among freshmen college students aged 18-24 years at George Mason University.