According to a new study, young men with poor diets saw significant improvement in their symptoms of depression when they switched to a healthy Mediterranean diet.
Depression is a common mental health problem that affects around 1 million Australians each year. It is an important risk factor for suicide, the leading cause of death in young adults.
The 12-week randomized controlled trial, conducted by researchers at the University of Technology Sydney, was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Lead researcher Jessica Bayes, a doctoral candidate at UTS School of Health, said the study was the first randomized clinical trial to assess the impact of a Mediterranean diet on symptoms of depression in young people. men (aged 18 to 25).
“We were surprised at how willing the young men were to embrace a new diet,” Bayes said. “People assigned to the Mediterranean diet were able to significantly modify their original diet, under the guidance of a nutritionist, over a short period of time.”
“This suggests that physicians and psychologists should consider referring depressed young men to a nutritionist or dietitian as an important part of treating clinical depression,” she said.
The study contributes to the emerging field of nutritional psychiatry, which aims to explore the effect that specific nutrients, foods and diets can have on mental health. The diet used in the study was rich in colorful vegetables, legumes and whole grains, fatty fish, olive oil and raw unsalted nuts.
“The primary goal was to increase diet quality with fresh whole foods while reducing consumption of ‘fast’ foods, sugar and processed red meat,” Bayes said.
“There are many reasons why we scientifically believe that food affects mood. For example, around 90% of serotonin, a chemical that helps us feel happy, is made in our gut by our gut microbes. There is new evidence that these microbes can communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve, in what is called the gut-brain axis.
“To get beneficial microbes, we need to feed them fiber, which is found in legumes, fruits, and vegetables,” she said.
About 30% of depressed patients do not respond adequately to standard treatments for major depressive disorder such as cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressants.
“Nearly all of our participants remained with the program, and many were keen to continue the diet after the study was completed, showing how effective, tolerable, and helpful they found the intervention.”
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