Clinical depression is a mental illness that is characterized by feelings of profound sadness, guilt, anxiety, helplessness, and worthlessness. People with depression can lose interest in everyday activities, making it difficult to develop personal relationships, hold a job, or even complete basic personal-care tasks. The exact cause of depression is not known, but there can be environmental, physical, or mental factors. As a result, treatment may have more than one element to help treat potential causes. Medicines can help treat physical causes like chemical or hormonal imbalances, while counseling can help manage intense emotions and negative thought patterns. Lifestyle changes have been shown to help people cope with depression. Regular physical activity has been shown to decrease incidence or intensity of depression, and research continues to better understand the role of nutrition.
Researchers from Spain studied potential links between dietary choices and the incidence of depression, particularly in relation to the Mediterranean diet plan. The Mediterranean Diet focuses on plant foods like fruits, vegetables, breads, cereals, potatoes, beans and nuts. In this diet, olive oil is the main source of fat. There is very little red meat, with moderate amounts of fish and poultry. Past research has indicated that this type of diet may decrease blood vessel, metabolic, and inflammatory problems that may otherwise contribute to the development of depression. This study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry , found that a Mediterranean-based diet may have a protective effect against the development of depression.
About the Study
The prospective cohort study followed 10,094 people over an average of 4.4 years. The participants submitted food frequency questionnaires that were designed to determine the amounts and types of food they ate. Participants were divided into four groups based on their level of adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet. Habits that were considered adherent to the Mediterranean Diet included:
- A good ratio of monounsaturated fats (good fats) to saturated fats (bad fats)
- Moderate intake of alcohol and dairy
- Low intake of red meat (preferred protein sources include nuts, legumes, and fish)
- High amounts of legumes, nuts, fruits, and vegetables
How Does This Affect You?
This type of study has an observational design. Researchers do not introduce any factors into the study; instead, they simply observe people in their own environments. As a result, factors other than the ones being studied may influence the outcome. While this type of study can be used to show potential links, it cannot be used to confirm a cause-and-effect relationship. The researchers of this study also noted that they did not account for certain factors, like family history, which may affect the development of depression.
Fruits and vegetables and healthy fats have been shown to provide important protective qualities for metabolic activities and cell health. It is reasonable to assume that a diet with a combination of these benefits may be able to impact the development of depression. You can easily begin to introduce some of these healthy elements into your diet by increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet, replacing some of your red meat choices with fish, nuts, or legumes, and opting for better fat choices like olive or canola oils. A well rounded diet that adheres closely to the Mediterranean diet is best, but you may find it easier to manage if you choose one or two changes at a time and work your way toward your goal. It is important for you to play an active role in your health care with good lifestyle choices, but if you feel you or someone you know may have depression, it is important to talk to your doctor. Together you can develop a plan to help manage the illness.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD