A new study found that young men with poor dietary habits experienced significant improvements in their depression symptoms when they consumed a healthy Mediterranean diet.
Depression is a common mental health condition that affects around 1 million Australians each year. It is a significant risk factor for suicide, the leading cause of death in young adults.
The 12-week randomized control trial, conducted by researchers at the University of Technology Sydney, was recently published in a peer-reviewed journal. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Lead researcher Jessica Bayes, a PhD candidate in the UTS Faculty of Health, said the study was the first randomized clinical trial to assess the effects of the Mediterranean diet on depressive symptoms in young adults (aged 18-25).
“We were surprised how willing the young people were to adopt the new diet,” Bayes said. “Those assigned to the Mediterranean diet were able to significantly change their original diets under the guidance of a nutritionist in a short time frame.”
“This suggests that medical doctors and psychologists should refer depressed youth to a nutritionist or dietitian as an important component of treatment for clinical depression.”
The study contributes to the emerging field of nutritional psychiatry, which aims to explore how specific nutrients, foods and dietary patterns can affect mental health. The diet used in the study was rich in colorful vegetables, legumes and whole grains, oily fish, olive oil and raw, unsalted nuts.
“The initial focus was on increasing diet quality with fresh whole foods while reducing intake of ‘fast’ foods, sugar and processed red meat,” Bayes said.
“Scientifically we think there are many reasons why food affects mood. For example, about 90 percent of serotonin, a chemical that helps us feel happy, is made in our gut by our gut microbes. There is emerging evidence that these microbes can. The vagus Communicates with the brain via nerves, called the gut-brain axis.
“For beneficial microbes to exist, we need to feed them fiber, which is found in legumes, fruits and vegetables,” he said.
About 30 percent of depressed patients fail to respond adequately to standard treatments for major depressive disorder, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and anti-depressant medications.
“Almost all of our participants stayed with the program, and many were willing to continue the diet after the study ended, which shows how effective, tolerable, and worthwhile they found the intervention.”