Med Diet Linked to Relief from Depression

In new research, after 12 weeks of following the MedDiet, one-third of patients with depression went into remission.

Feb. 11, 2017
By Mary West

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Just as the rich nutri­tion in the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) enhances phys­i­cal health, so it boosts men­tal health. A small but strik­ing Australian study links it to alle­vi­at­ing depres­sion.

Two big depres­sion-fight­ing prop­er­ties involve omega‑3 fatty acids and fiber.- Vickie Modica, Naturopathic Physician

The research pub­lished in BMC Medicine was the first ran­dom­ized con­trolled trial to inves­ti­gate whether or not an improve­ment in diet can be an effec­tive treat­ment for major depres­sive episodes.
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Scientists found that coun­sel­ing about healthy food choices, as well as the con­sump­tion of MedDiet foods relieved con­sid­er­ably more symp­toms of depres­sion than the inter­ven­tion of belong­ing to a social sup­port group.

Why was the diet so ben­e­fi­cial? Two big fac­tors that con­tribute to the depres­sion-fight­ing prop­er­ties involve two of its more famous nutri­ents: omega‑3 fatty acids and fiber,” natur­o­pathic physi­cian Vickie Modica of Seattle, Washington told Olive Oil Times.

Both of these nutri­ents have been the sub­ject of recent research into the mind-body link between diet and depres­sion. Omega‑3 fatty acids, known to have an anti-inflam­ma­tory effect and thought to have a health­ful impact on the ner­vous sys­tem, improve the symp­toms of depres­sion in mul­ti­ple stud­ies. Other research shows that diets high in fiber increase the diver­sity of good gut micro­biota, which is believed to have a pos­i­tive influ­ence on mood, includ­ing depres­sion,” Modica said.

In the cur­rent study, 67 patients suf­fer­ing from a major depres­sive episode were ran­domly assigned to attend either seven ses­sions with a clin­i­cal dieti­cian who extolled the value of the MedDiet or seven ses­sions of social sup­port. All the par­tic­i­pants had unhealthy diets at the begin­ning of the inter­ven­tion.


Individuals in the dietary coun­sel­ing group were asked to improve their eat­ing habits by con­sum­ing fruits, veg­eta­bles, nuts, whole grains, fish and olive oil, which are foods that com­prise the MedDiet. They were required to write what they ate in food diaries, and the recorded data revealed the qual­ity of their food intake increased sig­nif­i­cantly.

Participants in the social sup­port group were led in the dis­cus­sion of neu­tral top­ics of inter­est. On occa­sion, they played board games or cards, activ­i­ties cho­sen to keep them engaged and pos­i­tive.

At the end of 12 weeks, the con­trast between the two groups was remark­able. Nearly one-third of the coun­sel­ing group expe­ri­enced remis­sion from their depres­sion, com­pared to only 8 per­cent of the social sup­port group. Moreover, the improve­ments weren’t depen­dent upon exer­cise or weight loss.

This study should be thought of as pre­lim­i­nary research and hope­fully a cat­a­lyst for many more stud­ies prov­ing a mind-body con­nec­tion,” Modica noted. That said, I think its import is mul­ti­fac­eted, hav­ing a bear­ing on the fol­low­ing issues:

  • It high­lights the impor­tance of diet on qual­ity of life, rather than just longevity and weight con­trol.
  • The research implies that what you don’t put in your body is as impor­tant as what you do put in it. People eat­ing a healthy Mediterranean diet gen­er­ally eat less processed food. Future stud­ies may show that processed foods may be just as much the cul­prit here as healthy foods are the rem­edy.
  • We need solu­tions for men­tal health con­di­tions that aren’t phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal because med­ica­tions aren’t effec­tive for every­one. In fact, 30 to 40 per­cent of patients with major depres­sion have only a par­tial response to avail­able phar­ma­co­log­i­cal and psy­chother­a­peu­tic inter­ven­tions.
  • The 12-week dura­tion of the study shows how quickly health­ful changes to the diet can have a per­ceiv­able impact on health.

Modica explained that the con­cept of a nutri­tious diet pro­mot­ing men­tal health is an inte­gral part of the natur­o­pathic phi­los­o­phy.

If I can speak for my pro­fes­sion, we con­sider it a mat­ter of course that diet affects mood. For me, this study con­firms the clin­i­cal and empir­i­cal expe­ri­ences I have seen through my school­ing and career: a whole foods diet low or absent in processed food has a pos­i­tive impact on depres­sion symp­toms,” she said.


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