Mood foods: the link between depression and diet

Published: Dec. 28, 2018 at 3:48 PM EST
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Depression is the leading cause of disability in Americans ages 15 to 44. Now, a new study shows the foods you eat or don’t eat might affect how you feel.

Depression impacts more than 16 million adults in the U.S. each year. But could something as simple as changing your diet help boost your mood?

In a new paper, researchers analyzed the results of 41 studies on depression and food. They found eating a Mediterranean diet was linked to a 33 percent lower risk of depression. The Mediterranean diet includes foods like veggies, fruits, nuts, legumes, fish and healthy oils that contain monosaturated and omega-3 fats.

“Especially the Omega-3 fatty acids, those are known to have pretty clear effects with depression,” Dr. Charles Conway said.

On the flip side, the researchers found a diet high in processed foods, sugar and saturated fats upped the risk of depression. Steer clear of products with ingredients like flour, hydrogenated oil, sugar, artificial sweeteners and high-fructose corn syrup.

Some foods that have been shown to boost your mood include avocados, berries, tomatoes, leafy greens like kale and spinach, walnuts, seeds and beans. And don’t forget to throw in some physical activity for good measure.

“Pushing yourself to exercise regularly probably helps with some degree of mood improvement,” Conway said.

Some researchers theorize that food affects your mood because it changes your gut bacteria. If you continually consume processed or “inflammatory” foods, you’re creating chronic inflammation in the body that can lead to depression.



REPORT #2590

BACKGROUND: Nearly 7 percent of the American population of adults, or as many as 16 million people, experience clinical depression in any given year. More women are diagnosed with depression than men, and while the average age that symptoms are seen is 32, young people and the elderly also live with depression. Major depression is a difficult, chronic illness, but it is also possible to treat it effectively with medications, therapy, support, and self-care. Depression causes intense sadness that persists. It causes physical pains, changes in eating and sleeping habits, irritability, difficulty thinking, concentrating and making decisions, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Depression is a diagnosable mental health condition. It is chronic and cannot be cured, but with an accurate diagnosis and treatment, it can be managed and symptoms can be reduced, allowing an individual to carry on with a normal life and usual activities. Diagnosis should be made by a mental health professional, preferably a psychiatrist.


OLD VS NEW TREATMENTS: Antidepressant medications are commonly used for depression treatment, but the most effective treatment plan also includes some type of psychotherapy. In addition to medication and therapy, patients with depression benefit from support groups, support from friends and family, alternative therapies, and self-care. Unfortunately, there's no specific diet that's been proven to relieve depression, although nutrition can play a major role. While certain eating plans or foods may not ease your symptoms or put you instantly in a better mood, a healthy diet helps as part of an overall treatment. A Spanish study, using data from 4,211 men and 5,459 women, found that rates of depression tended to rise in men, especially smokers as they got less folate. The same thing happened for women, especially those who smoked or didn't exercise but when they got less vitamin B12. This wasn't the first study to find a link between these vitamins and depression. Researchers aren't sure which way the influence goes: do poor nutrient levels lead to depression, or does depression lead people to eat poorly? In either case, you can get both of these B vitamins from foods in a Mediterranean diet. Legumes, nuts, many fruits, and dark green vegetables have folate. Vitamin B12 can be found in all lean and low-fat animal products, such as fish and low-fat dairy products.

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DEVELOPMENTS IN DEPRESSION: The biggest development has been the rediscovery of a promising drug called ketamine. It’s best known as a psychedelic club drug that makes people hallucinate, but it may also have the ability to ease depression, and fast. In a race to shape the next generation of antidepressants, Johnson & Johnson and Allergan are fast-tracking new medicines inspired by ketamine. The FDA could be reviewing new drug submissions by as early as next year. Researchers, too, are exploring how to harness big data and even genetic testing to come up with new ways of treating depression for the 30% of people who don’t respond to the current standard-of-care treatment options. All of this has psychiatrists, long frustrated with their menu of available treatments, hopeful for the first time in years. Finally, their field is on the cusp of a much needed breakthrough. “At this point, any new depression treatment that makes it to the finish line is a huge win,” says Dr. George Papakostas, director for treatment resistant depression studies at Massachusetts General Hospital. “It’s going to have a major impact.” The question is which method will prove to help the most people in the safest way possible?