Young men with a poor diet saw a significant improvement in their symptoms of depression when they switched to a healthy Mediterranean diet, a new study shows.
Depression is a widespread mental health issue that affects roughly 300 million people globally each year. It is a substantial risk factor for suicide, the largest cause of mortality among young people.
The 12-week randomized controlled trial, done by experts from the University of Technology Sydney, was recently published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
According to lead researcher Jessica Bayes, of UTS Faculty of Health, the study was the first randomized clinical trial to examine the influence of a Mediterranean diet on depressive symptoms in young males (aged 18-25).
“We were surprised by how willing the young men were to take on a new diet. Those assigned to the Mediterranean diet were able to significantly change their original diets, under the guidance of a nutritionist, over a short time frame. It suggests that medical doctors and psychologists should consider referring depressed young men to a nutritionist or dietitian as an important component of treating clinical depression,” Bayes said.
The research adds to the rising topic of nutritional psychiatry. It tries to explore the effect of specific nutrients, foods, and dietary patterns on mental health. The study’s diet was loaded in multicolored vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, as well as oily fish, olive oil, and raw, unsalted nuts.
The primary focus was on increasing diet quality with fresh whole foods while reducing the intake of ‘fast’ foods, sugar, and processed red meat.
There are lots of reasons why scientifically we think food affects mood. For example, around 90 percent of Serotonin, a chemical that helps us feel happy, is made in the gut by gut microbes. There is emerging evidence that these microbes can communicate to the brain via the vagus nerve, in what is called the gut-brain axis. To have beneficial microbes, there is a need to feed them fiber, which is found in legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
Roughly 30 percent of depressed patients fail to adequately respond to standard treatments for a major depressive disorder such as cognitive behavior therapy and anti-depressant medications.
Nearly all our participants stayed with the program, and many were keen to continue the diet once the study ended, which shows how effective, tolerable and worthwhile they found the intervention.