Links Between Depression & Diet

By Maria Figueroa, Center for Health Equity Engagement Education and Research Research Coordinator

After reading two articles from very different sources recently about the convergence of diet and depression (see below for article links), I began wondering about the data and research behind it all.

I was able to find exactly this topic in a randomized control trial published in 2019 by PLOS One:  A brief diet intervention can reduce symptoms of depression in young adults – A randomized controlled trial in which 76 college students with high levels of depressive symptoms were randomized into two groups. One group was put on the Mediterranean diet (Diet Group) and the other group (Control Group) continued their usual eating habits for three weeks (the Mediterranean diet is a diet high in fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds but low in sugar and saturated fats).

Researchers followed up with the groups after three months. Of those in the Diet Group, 21.2% reported maintaining the diet, 57.6% maintained some aspects of the diet and 21.2% reported they had not maintained the diet, resulting in what the researchers called good compliance with the study protocol.  They found that those who had changed their diets reported feeling significantly less depressed, anxious, angry, tired and tense at the end of the three-week period. The Control Group who continued their usual eating habits did not see much of a change in their depression, mood and anxiety symptoms.

Dr. Heather Francis, lead study author and lecturer in Macquarie University’s Department of Psychology in Sydney, Australia said “depression is a whole-body disorder, not just a disorder of the brain.” I agree wholeheartedly. I believe that when you take care of your body and you feel good about yourself this will make a huge impact on your mind. Having a good support system will also help greatly. This article points out and explanation to understand the connection between the two, “According to Francis, depression is associated with a chronic inflammatory response, and researchers now know that a poor diet can boost systemic inflammation, too. “This is likely for two reasons,” she said. “First, highly processed foods—sweets, fast food, and sugary drinks—increase inflammation, and second, if we do not consume enough nutrient-dense foods— fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and fish—then this can lead to insufficiencies in nutrients and fiber, which also increases inflammation.”

Research shows the number of people with mental health disorders continues to rise and there appears to be many contributing factors that may increase the chance of having a mental health issue. Depression has many factors of its own, it can be caused by taking certain medications, having a chronic illness, substance abuse, genetics, abuse, death of a loved one, or major life event. Let’s continue to find better and more effective treatment to fight this problem.

Article links:

New York Times – “Mediterranean Diet May Help Ease Some Symptoms of Depression

Runner’s World – Can Improving Your Diet Actually Fight Depression?