Depression: Brief change in diet may relieve symptoms

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In the first study of its type, researchers conclude that even a brief shift in dietary habits can alleviate the symptoms of depression in young adults. The findings offer hope, but more work is needed.

According to the authors, to date, only one randomized control trial has investigated a dietary intervention on adults with a clinical diagnosis of depression.

The 12-week study concluded that “dietary improvement may provide an efficacious and accessible treatment strategy for the management of [major depression].”

The latest study, appearing now in PLOS ONE, adds more flesh to the bones.

In this study, the scientists wanted to uncover whether young adults living with depression could benefit from a 3-week dietary intervention. At the same time, they were keen to know whether young people with depression would be able to stick to a dietary intervention.

The researchers chose to study young adults because, as they explain, “adolescence and young adulthood are a period where there is increased risk of depression, and these are also critical periods for establishing health patterns — such as diet — which will carry over into adulthood.”

To investigate, researchers from Macquarie University in Australia recruited 76 participants between 17 and 35 years of age. All participants were experiencing moderate-to-high symptoms of depression, and their standard diet included high levels of sugar, saturated fats, and processed foods.

As hoped, participants in the experimental group did adhere to the dietary changes. In this diet change group, depression scores improved significantly. Both anxiety and stress scores also improved.

Conversely, the regular diet group experienced no significant changes in depression score.

After 3 months, the researchers spoke with 33 of the participants over the phone. Although only seven of these individuals were maintaining the healthful eating plan, the improvements in mood were still significant across this small group.

Overall, the authors conclude:

“Modifying diet to reduce processed food intake and increase consumption of fruit, vegetables, fish, and olive oil improved depression symptoms in young adults. These findings add to a growing literature showing a modest change to diet is a useful adjunct therapy to reduce symptoms of depression.”

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