Better diet could alleviate symptoms of depression finds study

It has been speculated earlier that a healthy diet can raise the mood and reduce symptoms of mild depression. A new study proves the cause and effect of healthy diet and improved symptoms of depression.

The results of the new study titled, “The effects of dietary improvement on symptoms of depression and anxiety: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials,” was published this week in the latest issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

A healthy balanced diet. Image Credit: Syda Productions / Shutterstock
A healthy balanced diet. Image Credit: Syda Productions / Shutterstock

The study from Western Sydney University, looked at 16 clinical trials that analyzed 45,826 people who had modified their diets to alleviate their symptoms of depression and anxiety. The clinical trials were from a more than one nation including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Italy and the UK. Lead researcher Dr Joseph Firth from Western Sydney University said that the major change that their diets involved was reducing “junk food intake” and replacing high fat and high sugar foods with foods that are rich in nutrients and fibres such as fruits and vegetables. Dr Firth said, “We took a bit of a close look at the data and interestingly found there was no significant differences in the types of diets used... Weight loss diets were just as effective as nutrient boosting diets.” This means that no “extreme diets” are necessary for depression, he explained. What is needed is a change in the basics he said. Dr. Firth added that the study did not find a beneficial effect of diets on anxiety disorders and women with depression were found to benefit more with an altered diet than men.

Dr. Firth said that there have been studies showing that regular exercise can have a protective effect against depression. This is the first study to prove that a healthy diet can also play a role in reducing the symptoms of depression. He explained that an average Australian individual consumes around 19 servings of junk food per week and much less amount of the recommended fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are rich in nutrients and fibre.

The authors emphasize that diet is not a replacement to tested and accepted treatments of depressive illness including medications and psychotherapy. However diets can be an additional remedy they said. They call for public health campaigns to emphasize upon healthy diet and its effects on the mental health. “Public health schemes are trying to improve people's diets and looking at the physical health outcomes... and focusing on combating things like obesity... They should also pay attention to actual positive mental health outcomes that could occur and improve people's diets on a large scale to fix people's psychological well being,” Dr. Firth said.

“Thus, depressive disorders incur considerable burden not only for individuals, but also for society due to the high economic cost from lost productivity and demand on healthcare services,” The authors write. Authors add that dietary interventions could be a “novel” approach to depression and conclude, “Future research is required to determine the specific components of dietary interventions that improve mental health, explore underlying mechanisms, and establish effective schemes for delivering these interventions in clinical and public health settings.”

In 2017 and 2018, there has been a rise in depressive illness with at least one in five Australian experiencing a mental illness (13.1 per cent had anxiety and 10.4 per cent felt depressed). Women were more vulnerable than men, say reports.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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