Researchers Link Adherence to Med Diet with Improved Outlook for Clinically Depressed

Following the Mediterranean diet was linked with the normal development of an important part of the nervous system in depressed patients.

By Jasmina Nevada
Sep. 8, 2021 12:39 UTC

Following a Mediterranean diet rich in extra vir­gin olive oil has ben­e­fi­cial effects on indi­vid­u­als suf­fer­ing from symp­toms of depres­sion, accord­ing to a new study out of Spain.

Investigators at the Institute for Health and Research in Aragon looked at the rela­tion­ship between fol­low­ing a Mediterranean diet and the con­sump­tion of spe­cific foods in pri­mary care patients aged 45 to 75. All the patients had sub­clin­i­cal or major depres­sion with or with­out other chronic dis­eases.

A poor-qual­ity diet is an avoid­able risk fac­tor for depres­sion, sup­port­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of using diet as an adjunc­tive treat­ment.- Alejandra Aguilar-Latorre, researcher, Institute for Health and Research in Aragon

The researchers found that a poor diet high in sat­u­rated fats, trans fats, sugar-based foods and fast food is related to recur­rent mood affec­tive dis­or­der symp­toms, result­ing in obe­sity and depres­sion.

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However, fol­low­ing a Mediterranean diet, com­pris­ing fruits, nuts, cere­als, fatty fish, small por­tions of meat, some red wine and extra vir­gin olive oil, has ben­e­fi­cial effects on the symp­toms of depres­sion.

According to the Global Burden of Disease, depres­sion is the lead­ing cause of dis­abil­ity world­wide. It is esti­mated that by 2030, mood affec­tive dis­or­ders will be the main con­trib­u­tor to mor­bid­ity.

Depression also has been linked to many chronic dis­eases preva­lent in Western soci­eties. Furthermore, researchers have uncov­ered a direct link between lifestyle, nutri­tion and depres­sion.

There is a direct cor­re­la­tion between diet and depres­sion, a bet­ter diet causes less depres­sion and vice versa,” Alejandra Aguilar-Latorre, one of the sci­en­tists involved in the study, told Olive Oil Times. Numerous stud­ies have described the rela­tion­ship between the qual­ity of the diet and the pres­ence of per­sis­tent or recur­rent depres­sive symp­toms.”

Assessing the dietary pat­tern of patients pre­sent­ing depres­sive symp­toms and pro­mot­ing adher­ence to a healthy diet is impor­tant,” she added. However, depres­sion is a big issue, and we should not for­get about its com­plex­i­ties.”

These com­plex­i­ties include bio­log­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal and social fac­tors as well. Diet and nutri­tion alone as a full treat­ment for depres­sion is incon­clu­sive.

However, adher­ing to the Mediterranean diet resulted in increased lev­els of brain-derived neu­rotrophic fac­tors, a neu­rotrophin required for nor­mal devel­op­ment of parts of the ner­vous sys­tem, in depressed patients.

Furthermore, extra vir­gin olive oil is the pri­mary source of fat in the tra­di­tional Mediterranean diet and is rich in polyphe­nols, Omega−3 fatty acids and B vit­a­mins. Meanwhile, nuts con­tain sele­nium, along with Omega‑3 fatty acids. Consumption of these micronu­tri­ents has long been con­sid­ered pos­i­tive effects on depres­sion.

Experimental stud­ies also have estab­lished that con­sum­ing olive oil reg­u­larly pro­vides neu­ro­pro­tec­tive effects, which influ­ence behav­ior via the metab­o­lism of sero­tonin and dopamine neu­ro­trans­mit­ters.

This rein­forces the use of olive oil as a ther­a­peu­tic pro­tec­tive sub­stance to treat depres­sion and anx­i­ety, espe­cially in elderly and mid­dle-aged women.

Aguilar-Latorre said these find­ings are espe­cially impor­tant as they come at a time when adher­ence to the Mediterranean diet in Spain and other Mediterranean coun­tries remains in decline. Consumers are lean­ing toward a more Westernized” diet, which is high in red and processed meats, fried food, refined cere­als, sug­ary drinks and processed foods.

These diets also typ­i­cally lack fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles, which fur­ther leads to dis­eases such as dia­betes, obe­sity and increased lev­els of depres­sion.

I rec­om­mend avoid­ing the use of sup­ple­ments and improv­ing the qual­ity of your diet, as a first option [for treat­ing depres­sion],” Aguilar-Latorre said. A poor-qual­ity diet is an avoid­able risk fac­tor for depres­sion, sup­port­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of using diet as an adjunc­tive treat­ment.”

Any change should be under the advice of an expert nutri­tion­ist,” she added. Our research is from the field of psy­chol­ogy, so we must admit our lim­i­ta­tions in terms of nutri­ent intake.”

However, depres­sion is a very com­plex issue, so the rela­tion­ship between nutri­tion and depres­sion needs to be looked at fur­ther,” Aguilar-Latorre con­tin­ued.

She said that her research group will con­tinue to inves­ti­gate the influ­ence of lifestyles on mood affec­tive dis­or­ders and their symp­toms.

We are imple­ment­ing a ran­dom­ized clin­i­cal trial in which we advise peo­ple with depres­sion how to change to a healthy lifestyle,” Aguilar-Latorre said. The results are promis­ing: by chang­ing their lifestyles (sleep rou­tine, sun expo­sure, phys­i­cal exer­cise and diet), their depres­sive symp­toms are reduced.”

These results high­light the impor­tance of imple­ment­ing cost-effec­tive lifestyles med­ica­tion pro­grams in pri­mary health­care cen­ters,” she con­cluded.

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