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Int J Circumpolar Health. 2003 Sep;62(3):228-41.

Diet and mental health in the Arctic: is diet an important risk factor for mental health in circumpolar peoples?--a review.

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Department of Psychology, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 99775-70000, USA.



The people living in Arctic and Subarctic environments have adapted to cold temperatures, short growing seasons, and low precipitation, but their traditional ways are now changing due to increased contact with Western society. The rapid alteration of circumpolar cultures has led to generational changes in diet from traditional foods to the processed groceries common in modern stores.


Develop a link between changing traditional diets and mental health that may have substantial consequences for circumpolar peoples.


Review of English language literature pertaining to the northern circumpolar environments of the world that consist of the Arctic and Subarctic areas. Electronic resources such as ISI Web of Science and PubMed were utilized, using keywords such as arctic, circumpolar, diet, omega-3 fatty acids, mental health, seasonal affective disorder, and suicide. In addition, we used the cited references of obtained articles and the extensive University of Alaska Fairbanks library collections to identify additional publications that were not available from the electronic resources. The years covered were not restricted to any particular period, although 83% of the sources were published in the last 16 years.


The change in traditional diets has already led to increased health problems, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, while the mental health of circumpolar peoples has also declined substantially during the same time period. The decline in mental health is characterized by increased rates of depression, seasonal affective disorder, anxiety, and suicide, that now often occur at higher rates than in lower-latitude populations. Studies in non-circumpolar peoples have shown that diet can have profound effects on neuronal and brain development, function, and health. Therefore, we hypothesize that diet is an important risk factor for mental health in circumpolar peoples.

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