Depression is one of the world’s most prevalent and costly medical disorders. New research has discovered that simple dietary changes could be a treatment for depression.
And while the condition is more common among females, males often find it harder to talk about their feelings and get help.
But a new trial out of Deakin University has shown for the first time that making simple changes to what we eat can be a treatment for depression.
It’s a remarkable finding and gives people with depression the possibility of a new, non-pharmaceutical, treatment option.
Deakin’s Food and Mood Centre director Professor Felice Jacka said the findings were ground-breaking.
“We’ve known for some time that there is a clear association between the quality of people’s diets and their risk for depression,” Professor Jacka said.
“This is the case across countries, cultures and age groups. Healthy diets are associated with reduced risk, and unhealthy diets are associated with increased risk for depression.”
“However, this is the first randomised controlled trial. The trial is to directly test whether improving diet quality can actually be a treatment for depression.”
What did participants eat to get such positive results?
Half the participants in the study received support from a clinical dietitian. Over a three-month period the dietitian helped them improve the overall quality of their diets.
They focused on eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, fish, lean red meats, olive oil and nuts.
They also cut back on unhealthy extra foods. These included sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast-food, processed meats and sugary drinks.
The study was published in the international journal BMC Medicine. It showed the participants who received help from a clinical dietician saw a greater reduction in their depressive symptoms. This was compared to study participants who received help from a social support group.
At the end of the trial, a third of those in the dietitian’s support group met the criteria for remission of major depression. This was compared to just 8 percent in the social support group.
These findings are particularly impressive. Especially when you consider that social support groups are known to be helpful for people with depression. This study showed that eating a healthier diet was even more beneficial than something we already know can work.
Even within the group of participants who were helped by a clinical dietician, the people who adhered more closely to the dietitian’s directions saw the greatest reduction in their depression symptoms.
Changing the way we look at treatment for depression
Professor Jacka is also president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. He believes the findings should change the way we look at treating depression.
“Mental disorders account for the leading cause of disability worldwide, with depression accounting for the large proportion of that burden,” Professor Jacka said.
“While approximately half of sufferers are helped by currently available medical and psychological therapies, new treatment options for depression are urgently needed.”
Perhaps in the future clinical dietitians will become a regular part of mental health care teams working.