The aim of this study is to examine whether if poor nutritional habits are associated with stress and depressive symptoms of students in Germany, Bulgaria and Poland. A cross-sectional survey was administered among first year students: 696 German students, 489 Polish students and 654 Bulgarian students. The self-administered questionnaires given were: 12-item food frequency questionnaire, modified Beck Depression Index, and Cohen’s Perceived Stress Scale. Linear regression was conducted for perceived stress and depressive symptoms.
The results revealed that the food consumption of male students is not associated with perceived stress or depressive symptoms. On the other hand, the food consumption of female students is associated with perceived stress or depressive symptoms, specifically when it comes to frequency of consumptions of sweets, fast foods, fruits, vegetables, and meat. The data show consistent associations between unhealthy food consumptions and perceived stress and depressive symptoms. This study suggested that consumption of healthier foods may be an effort to reduce depressive symptoms and stress among students and vice versa.
As I reflect on this study, I remember that I had a lecture on Behavioral Neuroscience class with the very interesting topic on Neurotransmitters. These are endogenous chemicals in the brain that transmit signals from one neuron to another and they are responsible in the manifestations of our behaviors. Amino acids from protein-rich foods we consume are used to make the neurotransmitters that allow our brain cells to network and communicate well. If we consume healthier foods, we can promote homeostasis in our brain’s chemical balance, while if we consume too much fast foods or sweets, for instance, glutamate, the most prevalent excitatory neurotransmitter, there will be an increase in glutaminergic activity in our brain which is associated with our irritability, stress, in extreme case, depressive symptoms. So as psychologists, we must promote healthy food consumption, because every food that we eat affects our neurotransmitters, so as our thinking, feeling, and our behavior.
Jennifer Francia P. Villanueva, RPm