Time For Wellness reports on how diet may affect depression:
In the last few years some compelling evidence that diet is linked to the development of depression has emerged.
In 2009 in the UK it was found that a “processed food” dietary pattern (mostly sweetened desserts, fried food, processed meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products) strongly predicted the development of depression within 5 years, while a “whole food” pattern (mostly vegetables, fruits and fish) was protective (1). And at the same time in Spain it was shown for the first time that adhering to a traditional Mediterranean style diet prevented depression (2).
A subsequent study in 2010 in Australia came to a similar conclusion when it was discovered that a “traditional” dietary pattern (mostly vegetables, fruit, grass fed meat, fish, and whole grains) was associated with lower odds for major depression or dysthymia and for anxiety disorders compared to a “western” diet of processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products, and beer (3).
At the time of publication in the American Journal of Psychiatry an editorialist wrote:
“It is both compelling and daunting to consider that dietary intervention at an individual or population level could reduce rates of psychiatric disorders. There are exciting implications for clinical care, public health, and research (4).”
Through 2010 to 2011 associations between healthy eating and incident depression were demonstrated in Norwegian and Japanese adults and in adolescents (5-7). But despite tremendous evidence to suggest dietary change could prevent, or even treat, depression intervention studies are lacking.
Psychiatry with a fork
Remarkably, there are no randomized controlled trials of dietary change for the treatment of clinical depression. A few reports have looked at the effects of low-carbohydrate, low-fat or calorie restricted diets on mood state but these are not representative of the whole food patterns that have shown positive effects in the observational studies cited above (8).
One particularly interesting report however comes from Dr Dean Ornish and colleagues (9). To ascertain whether people with depression, and established heart disease or diabetes, could make necessary lifestyle changes and reverse their illness a group of men and women were counseled on healthy lifestyle behaviors over three months.
During the treatment the participants attended a supervised lifestyle programmed twice a week where they were encouraged to eat a low-fat plant-based diet (details of which can be found in The Spectrum, by Dean Ornish), engage in aerobic and resistance exercise for 3 hours a week, practice stress management for 1 hour each day and attend support group sessions for 2 hours each week.
Over the three months all participants made the required changes to their diet and lifestyle and those who made greater changes were more likely to improve their health. It was found that 73% of people whose symptoms suggested clinical depression before treatment were no longer depressed, a remarkable result.
In addition to relief from depression there was also evidence of an improvement in psychological well-being with less hostility and perceived stress and improved quality of life. Heart disease and diabetes measures also improved.
While it is impossible to separate the effects of diet alone, this study demonstrates that comprehensive lifestyle change is an effective and safe approach to the treatment of depression.
Importantly all participants made the necessary changes dispelling the presupposition that lifestyle change may be too difficult, in fact those with worse health wore more likely to change. Compared to antidepressant medication, dietary and lifestyle change may not only improve depression but also elevate people to a higher state of physical and psychological wellbeing.
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There are many reasons why diet may affect our mental health and mood. A highly refined, high sugar diet may simply not be providing the nutrients necessary to support neurological health. In addition to this, food and environmental allergies can cause mental, as well as physical symptoms, including panic attacks and anxiety. Many of my clients have experienced how toxins released from gut yeast can affect mood. This means that even when initial dietary changes are made, as mentioned in the article above, symptoms may continue while gut health is being supported. This does pass, and there are a number of natural supplements, including herbs and amino acids, which may be of help during this time.
Another, very basic factor which may influence mood is blood sugar balance. If foods are being eaten throughout the day that put a heavy demand on the production of insulin, blood sugar levels may be rising and falling on a regular basis, with each dip potentially influencing mood, stamina and outlook.
Do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to know more about how diet and supplements may help support your mental outlook.