Does the Mediterranean diet improve symptoms of depression? Here’s what science says

According to the Commission Lancet on global mental health and sustainable development, “all countries can be considered developing countries in the context of mental health.” Mental illnesses have increased in incidence worldwide in recent years and are now among the top 10 causes of disease burden.

One of the most common disorders in this area is depression. As of 2021, it is estimated to affect more than 330 million people and is associated with a decreased quality of life and an increased risk of developing other diseases.

Although advances in research have demonstrated the effectiveness of psychological and pharmacological treatments, not all patients achieve or maintain remission of symptoms with standard therapy alone.

What we eat matters

When it comes to prevention, the combination of biological, psychological, environmental and social factors poses a major challenge. Several lifestyle risk factors have been identified, such as smoking, alcohol or lack of physical activity. And among them, food has received special attention from the scientific community.

The fact is that epidemiological studies have found a consistent link between high adherence to the Mediterranean diet and a lower risk of depression in adults. However, scientific evidence is still limited to answer another question: Are interventions based on the Mediterranean diet effective in reducing symptoms in those already suffering from depression?

Dietary interventions against depression

Although the first large-scale epidemiological studies that analyzed the influence of diet on the development of chronic diseases date back to the 1950s, interest in the relationship between the food we eat and health has a long history. Hippocrates (ca. 460–370 BC), considered the father of Western medicine, had already established that dietary recommendations were, along with physical activity, one of the most important lifestyle factors for restoring balance in sick people.

Over the past decade, research supporting the role of dietary interventions in mental health has increased. Thus, the International Society for Research in Nutritional Psychiatry advocates that so-called nutritional medicine be considered a central element of psychiatric practice.

When it comes to depression, it is known that unhealthy eating habits (diets rich in ultra-processed foods and fats, added sugar, sodium and chemical additives) can contribute to the immune system releasing pro-inflammatory cytokines. And it will increase the risk of depressive symptoms, among other mental health problems.

Instead, adopting healthy eating habits such as the Mediterranean diet, rich in foods such as fruits, herbs, spices, extra virgin olive oil, whole grains, nuts and vegetables, provides a source of bioactive compounds with strong antioxidant properties that can positively impact to your health. the underlying biological mechanisms (oxidative stress and pro-inflammatory state) of depression.

Evaluation of the Mediterranean Diet as a Therapy

To find out, we conducted a study that summarized five clinical trials involving 1,507 adults aged 22 to 53 years. Our work assessed the effect of nutrition education-based interventions—through dietary advice and nutrition management—to promote adherence to the Mediterranean diet, lasting from 2 to 48 weeks.

In summary, we were able to determine that those who joined the Mediterranean diet intervention group reported fewer depressive symptoms after treatment compared to adults in the control group, both from a statistical and clinical perspective. . .

These effects may be explained by the fact that a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, can reduce levels of specific markers of systemic inflammation, such as C-reactive protein, which are associated with depressive behavior.

Lifestyle interventions, based primarily on promoting a healthy diet, can play an important role in alleviating patients’ symptoms. And without side effects. Although larger, longer-term clinical trials in adults of all ages are needed to draw more conclusive conclusions, the results are promising.Talk

Bruno Bizzozero Peroni, postdoctoral fellow, University of Castilla La Mancha

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.

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