Researchers from the U.K., Australia and Spain explored the link between the risk of depression and following a high-quality diet rich in plant foods like the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet). They found close adherence to the eating plan could substantially reduce the likelihood of developing the mental illness.
There is compelling evidence to show that there is a relationship between the quality of your diet and your mental health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 8.1 percent of American adults suffered from depression in a given two-week period from 2013 to 2016. Symptoms include poor sleep and appetite, as well as low mood and a loss of interest in life. Because medication is only effective in one-third of cases, the researchers believe modifying risk factors, such as diet, has value.
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“There is compelling evidence to show that there is a relationship between the quality of your diet and your mental health. This relationship goes beyond the effect of diet on your body size or other aspects of health that can, in turn, affect your mood,” said lead author Camille Lassale of University College London Epidemiology and Public Health.
“We aggregated results from a large number of studies and there is a clear pattern that following a healthier, plant-rich, anti-inflammatory diet can help in the prevention of depression.”
The research was a review of 41 studies. Of these, four involved an assessment of the association between adherence to the MedDiet and depression in 36,556 adults. They showed that people who followed the eating plan closely were one-third less likely to develop the mental illness than those who followed it the least. In addition, the consumption of a pro-inflammatory diet with large quantities of sugar, processed food and saturated fat was tied to a higher depression risk.
According to the researchers, following a diet that avoids pro-inflammatory foods while favoring anti-inflammatory foods plentiful in vitamins, minerals, polyphenols and fiber protects against depression. Such an eating plan includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, legumes, nuts and fish.
“A pro-inflammatory diet can induce systemic inflammation, and this can directly increase the risk for depression. There is also emerging evidence that shows that the relationship between the gut and brain plays a key role in mental health and that this axis is modulated by gastrointestinal bacteria, which can be modified by our diet,” explained Lassale.
In an interview with Olive Oil Times, Eugene Charles, New York chiropractor, applied kinesiologist and author of Antidotes for Indiscretions, elaborated about how aspects of the diet have an effect on depression.
“The MedDiet is rich in fiber, which is a prebiotic that feeds beneficial intestinal bacteria, thus promoting their growth. These bacteria play a role in the body’s production of neurotransmitters, especially serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid, both of which elevate mood,” Charles noted.
“In addition to gut health, the diet contributes in other ways to help prevent depression. One is that the brain is predominantly fat; therefore, the healthy fat from olive oil and fatty fish enhance brain function. For years I have taught my patients to use olive oil in their coffee to make it a more healthy drink, a mood elevator and an exceptional ‘natural remedy’ for depression.”
Although the connection between nutritious foods and a lower depression risk has been established, a need exists for more intervention studies evaluating how improving diet can benefit mental health. The study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.