The Mediterranean diet has been shown to have a positive effect on reducing the rate of heart disease, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer. However, nutrition is often overlooked as an aspect of mental health treatment. Thankfully, researchers are now looking at studies to answer can the Mediterranean diet help with depression?
What is Depression
According to the Mayo Clinic, depression is defined as a “mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems”.
It is estimated that 251-310 million people worldwide currently suffer from depression (according to the Global Health Data Exchange).
There are many variables that can cause or lead to increased risk for depression. If left untreated, depression can take a serious toll on all aspects of someone’s life including emotional, behavioral and health issues.
There are a lot of treatment options available for depression, including therapy and medication. However, it’s only recently that people started looking at nutrition as a strategy for prevention and treatment.
Can the Mediterranean Diet help with Depression
New research was discussed at the American Psychiatric Association’s 2019 Annual Meeting indicating that a Mediterranean-type diet may protect against symptoms of depression in later life.
East-Attica, Greece Study
- Who: Researchers at Hellenic Open University, Greece, led by Konstantinos Argyropoulos, M.D., Ph.D.
- Participants: Members of day-care centers for older people, in East-Attica, Greece
- What was Studied: 64% reported medium adherence to the Mediterranean diet and 34% showed high adherence. Nearly one-quarter screened positive for depressive symptoms
- Findings: “Adherence to a Mediterranean diet may protect against the development of depressive symptoms in older age.”
- Why: study found a diet higher in vegetables and lower in poultry and alcohol was associated with decreased likelihood of developing depression or depression later in life
- Notes: the above study doesn’t prove cause and effect. Also important to note that people with depression may have a hard time maintaining a healthy diet, exercise or social interactions
A large study that assessed if the Mediterranean diet, specifically supplementing with extra virgin olive oil and/or nuts, was a factor in preventing the risk of relapse in unipolar depression.
- Participants: 18 years and older, has had a previous major depressive episode within the last five years and are in a stage of total or partial remission within the last six months
- What was Studied: Two groups (~250 people per group): Mediterranean diet with olive oil versus control group (no dietary intervention). Clinical trial designed to see the role of a Mediterranean diet in the prevention of recurrent depression
- Findings: study still in 2 year follow up timeframe
A new study that suggests the Mediterranean diet may help improve depression symptoms in young men.
- Participants: 72 young men, ages 18-25, with clinically diagnosed depression
- What was Studied: 12 week study aimed at determining if those that followed a Mediterranean diet had an improvement in the depression symptoms
- Findings: Researchers reported that 100% of participants in the Mediterranean diet support group experienced some improvement in their depression systems. They went on to report that 36% also saw a decline in their Beck Depression Inventory Scale.
Why this matters – The results highlight the possible role nutrition may play in the treatment of depression.
The Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet on Depression
According to findings published in Medical News Today, studies revealed that following the plant-rich Mediterranean diet was associated with a 33% reduced risk of depression, compared with following a diet that was low in plant based foods.
It’s impossible to narrow down the possibly positive effects of the Mediterranean diet to a single food or ingredient. In general, the Mediterranean diet may help with depression because –
- it’s low in saturated fat and animal proteins
- rich in plants – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, nuts and seeds
- high in antioxidants, fiber and monounsaturated fats
- a good balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids
- low in alcohol consumption
Further research suggests that adequate levels of B-vitamins and folate may help improve depression symptoms. Findings from the Kuopio Heart Study indicate that those under the desired folate levels had a significant higher risk of being diagnosed with depression than those that had adequate folate levels. The Mediterranean diet is a good source of folate.
Foods that Help with Mood
As we mentioned before, there isn’t a single food or ingredient that can help or harm. This is also true when it comes to depression.
However, there are a few ingredients that research indicates may help protein with brain function, mood and offer preventative risk of cognitive decline/dementia.
- Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
- Fatty Fish
- Tea and Coffee
Check out this Brain Boosting Almond Butter & Blueberry Smoothie is you are looking for a delicious mood boosting recipe.
Depression is a multi-faceted disease that many suffer from and for different reasons. Research is still undergo in this field. However, trends look promising that the Mediterranean diet may have a positive effect on improving depression systems and possible reduced depression risk.
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Last modified: June 8, 2022