Food affects mood and Australian researchers say the widely lauded Mediterranean diet is proving to be a powerful treatment for major depression.
The association between diet and risk of depression has been known for some time and now the latest research has found a healthy Mediterranean-style diet can reduce depressive symptoms in patients to the point of remission.
Director of Deakin's Food and Mood Centre Professor Felice Jacka said the results of her team's new study, published in international journal BMC Medicine, offers a potential new treatment approach to one of world's leading cause of disability.
"While approximately half of sufferers are helped by currently available medical and psychological therapies, new treatment options for depression are urgently needed," Prof Jacka said.
A world-first randomised controlled trial, led by Prof Jacka and her team, recruited 67 adults to test whether improving diet quality can effectively treat clinical depression.
The participants, all with major depressive disorder, were randomly assigned to receive either social support, which is known to be helpful for people with depression, or support from a clinical dietitian, over a three-month period.
The dietary group increased their consumption of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes, fish, lean red meats, olive oil and nuts - typical of a Mediterranean-style diet, while also reducing their consumption of unhealthy 'extras' such as sugary drinks, fast-food and cereals.
It found a third of the participants in the dietary support group met criteria for remission of major depression, compared to eight per cent of those in the social support group.
"These results were not explained by changes in physical activity or body weight, but were closely related to the extent of dietary change," Professor Jacka said.
"Those who adhered more closely to the dietary program experienced the greatest benefit to their depression symptoms," she said.
The study suggest the possibility of adding dieticians to mental health care teams and making dietitian support available to those experiencing depression.
Key components of the Mediterranean diet:
* Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
* Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
* Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
* Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil
* Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavour foods
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