Following a Mediterranean Diet Can Help Beat Depression

The study is part of a growing body of research that demonstrates how healthy eating plans have a positive impact on mental health.

By Susan R. Miller
Oct. 15, 2019 10:10 UTC

A new study pub­lished by a group of Australian researchers sug­gests that eat­ing a diet rich in fruits, veg­eta­bles, nuts, seeds and fish, such as the Mediterranean diet, can help reduce the symp­toms of depres­sion.

The par­tic­i­pants, who were between 17 and 35 years old, scored high for depres­sion, anx­i­ety and stress. One group was put on the Mediterranean diet for three weeks and told to avoid processed foods, sat­u­rated fats and refined sug­ars. Members of the con­trol group con­tin­ued on their usual diets.

With all that is known at this stage in nutri­tion his­tory regard­ing the link between inflam­ma­tion, mood and diet, it is not too early in the process to make a solid hypoth­e­sis that the Mediterranean diet can reduce depres­sion symp­toms.- Lisa Richards, nutri­tion­ist and author

To ensure they stuck to the diet, par­tic­i­pants were given food items includ­ing olive oil, nat­ural nut but­ter, nuts and seeds (wal­nuts, almonds, pepi­tas, sun­flower seeds) and spices (cin­na­mon, turmeric) as well as a reg­u­lar stipend to pur­chase addi­tional food items.

Researchers said they chose this age group because ado­les­cence and young adult­hood are a period where there is increased risk of depres­sion, and these are also crit­i­cal peri­ods for estab­lish­ing health pat­terns – such as diet – which will carry over into adult­hood.”

See Also:Olive Oil Health Benefits

After the three-week period, the group that stuck to the Mediterranean diet expe­ri­enced a decrease in their depres­sion scores from the mod­er­ate range to the nor­mal range. They also reported feel­ing less stressed and anx­ious.

Researchers noted that in addi­tion to improved mood, there is a lot to gain in bet­ter phys­i­cal health as well.

These results are the first to show that young adults with ele­vated depres­sion symp­toms can engage in and adhere to a diet inter­ven­tion and that this can reduce symp­toms of depres­sion,” the researchers wrote.

However, they added: While there is con­vinc­ing obser­va­tional evi­dence for a link between diet qual­ity and depres­sion, the evi­dence for a causal rela­tion­ship is still emerg­ing, par­tic­u­larly in rela­tion to young adults.”

The researchers’ find­ings were pub­lished in the jour­nal, Plos One.

Caitlin Self, a Baltimore-based licensed nutri­tion­ist who works at a men­tal health prac­tice, said the find­ings of the study match what she has wit­nessed in her clin­i­cal prac­tice.

We know for sure that there is a rela­tion­ship between diet and depres­sion, but in order to truly test this causal inter­ac­tion, we would need a larger sam­ple size and repli­cated stud­ies to accu­rately assess what per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion is sus­cep­ti­ble to diet-induced depres­sion,” Self said.

The study is part of a grow­ing body of research that shows how diet impacts men­tal health. In fact, the field of nutri­tional psy­chi­a­try is one that is gain­ing momen­tum.

The Mediterranean diet inte­grates healthy fats, such as omega‑3 fatty acids, while also remov­ing processed foods which are known to be inflam­ma­tory. Omega‑3 is known to be anti-inflam­ma­tory mak­ing it pos­si­ble to reduce inflam­ma­tion and its side effects through this diet, accord­ing to Lisa Richards, a nutri­tion­ist and author of The Candida Diet.

With all that is known at this stage in nutri­tion his­tory regard­ing the link between inflam­ma­tion, mood and diet, it is not too early in the process to make a solid hypoth­e­sis that the Mediterranean diet can reduce depres­sion symp­toms,” she said.

However, she added: Additional research should be done regard­ing the role of med­ica­tion and coun­sel­ing cou­pled with this diet pat­terns. It would be unwise to sug­gest that a diet alone could mit­i­gate every­one’s depres­sion symp­toms.”

In April, a study pub­lished in Psychosomatic Medicine looked at 16 pre­vi­ously pub­lished peer-reviewed stud­ies com­par­ing the effects of dietary inter­ven­tions to non-dietary con­trol con­di­tions involv­ing more than 46,000 par­tic­i­pants.

They came to the con­clu­sion that dietary inter­ven­tions hold promise as a novel inter­ven­tion for reduc­ing symp­toms of depres­sion across the pop­u­la­tion.”

However, they too deter­mined that fur­ther research was needed.

Kristen Ciccolini, a Boston-based nutri­tion­ist, said that while it takes an aver­age of 17 years for evi­dence in research to make it into clin­i­cal prac­tice, there is plenty of research on the gut-brain con­nec­tion, as well as about nutri­ents’ role in men­tal health.

I’ve seen it help in my per­sonal life and in my prac­tice, and because it’s such a low-risk route to take, I don’t see a down­side in try­ing to eat strate­gi­cally in this way,” said Ciccolini.

She added that while an improved diet may not cure depres­sion, it cer­tainly helps to have foods with nutri­ents that sup­port gut health (where sero­tonin is pro­duced) and brain health.”


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