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Nutritional upgrade: Changes to diet may address depression: Study

Will Chu


This landmark study is the first to investigate the effects of dietary changes on depression (rather than supplementation with specific nutrients) using a randomised controlled trial design.

Significant benefits were found in reducing depressive symptoms in young women who followed a 'Mediterranean-type' diet for 3 months, compared with a control group who received general support, but no dietary intervention.

As with any trial involving actual diet, the trial could not be double-blinded (as people can't be prevented from knowing what they are eating..) Likewise, numbers were fairly small, and as always, there were some methodological limitations - so of course, replication studies will be needed.

Meanwhile, however, the success of this trial represents a very important step in providing the kind of evidence needed for medically-trained professionals to take nutritional approaches more seriously.  Which makes it an extremely important study.

And these findings should also hopefully provide some encouragement for individuals and families affected by depression to consider dietary changes of the kind that this study involved, as this has well-documented benefits to physical health, in addition to possibly helping to alleviate mental symptoms.

For details of this research see:

For other studies reporting benefits of a 'Mediterranean'type' diet, see:

See also:

Tweaks to a diet’s nutritional make-up may provide an effective strategy for depression, says a study detailing extended benefits towards the management of associated disorders. 

Eating more vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes, fish, lean red meats, olive oil and nuts, led to a significant reduction in depressive symptoms over a three-month period, said investigators.

At the end of the investigation, a third of subjects in the dietary support group met the definitions of depression remission, compared to 8% of subjects in the social support cohort.

"These results were not explained by changes in physical activity or body weight, but were closely related to the extent of dietary change," said Professor Felice Jacka, director of Deakin's Food and Mood Centre at Deakins University in Australia.

"Those who adhered more closely to the dietary program experienced the greatest benefit to their depression symptoms."

The study’s positive implications also included the physical illnesses that were associated with depression, which are both a cause and consequence of the mental disorder.

"Importantly, depression also increases the risk of and, in turn, is also increased by common physical illnesses such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease,” said Professor Jacka.

“Moreover, behavioural changes associated with food (cooking/shopping/meal patterns) are an expected outcome of a nutrition intervention, and these changes in activity may also have had a therapeutic benefit,” the study added.

Although a ‘healthy diet’ is open to interpretation according to the country and culture, general consensus suggests diets rich in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains, coupled with lean proteins like fish, are linked to a lower risk for depression.

A Mediterranean diet— strongly associated with these food components—has been linked with a 30% reduced risk for depression as well as chronic disease .

Nutritional supplements have also shown usefulness in psychiatric disorders although the bulk of research has been limited to animal studies and observational studies in humans.