Adopting the Mediterranean diet can significantly contribute to improving symptoms of depression in young men.
This is the most significant conclusion of a randomized control trial conducted by a team of Australian researchers on a group of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.
(The study results) suggests that medical doctors and psychologists should consider referring depressed young men to a nutritionist or dietitian as an important component of treating clinical depression.
During 12 weeks, dozens of young patients affected by moderate to severe depression saw relevant symptoms connected to their condition curtailed due to the adoption of the Mediterranean diet.
According to the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the results are so significant that they “highlight the important role of nutrition for the treatment of depression and should inform advice given by clinicians to this specific demographic population.”
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The trial was completed by 72 young men who were divided into two groups: one adopted the Mediterranean diet, and the other was a control group.
The latter was subjected only to befriending therapy to reinforce social connections. Assessments were conducted at the beginning of the trial period, after the first six weeks and at the end.
These assessments showed how specific scores meant to measure the condition were significantly higher in the MedDiet group. As a consequence of the healthy diet, the scores related to the patients’ quality of life also improved significantly.
“We were surprised by how willing the young men were to take on a new diet,” lead researcher Jessica Bayes of the University of Technology in Sydney’s school of public health told Neuroscience News. “Those assigned to the Mediterranean diet were able to significantly change their original diets, under the guidance of a nutritionist, over a short time frame.”
“It suggests that medical doctors and psychologists should consider referring depressed young men to a nutritionist or dietitian as an important component of treating clinical depression,” she added.
The Mediterranean diet is plant-based and mainly comprises vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, nuts, and olive oil with moderate dairy and meat consumption. During the trial, the patients significantly reduced their intake of sugar and processed red meat.
“There are lots of reasons why scientifically we think food affects mood,” Bayes said. “For example, around 90 percent of serotonin, a chemical that helps us feel happy, is made in our gut by our gut microbes.”
“There is emerging evidence that these microbes can communicate to the brain via the vagus nerve, in what is called the gut-brain axis,” she added. “To have beneficial microbes, we need to feed them fiber, which is found in legumes, fruits and vegetables.”
The link between the Mediterranean diet and depression increasingly have been explored over the years.
A 2019 Australian study found significant benefits were reported by adults under 35 years of age who adopted the healthy diet.
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However, the researchers warned that “while there is convincing observational evidence for a link between diet quality and depression, the evidence for a causal relationship is still emerging, particularly in relation to young adults.”
A more extensive analysis, published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2019, looked at 16 previously published peer-reviewed studies comparing the effects of dietary interventions to non-dietary control conditions involving more than 46,000 participants.
The researchers noted that the results were consistent with the fact that “dietary interventions hold promise as a novel intervention for reducing symptoms of depression across the population.”
The beneficial effects of the Mediterranean diet on patients with depression seem to extend to older adults as well.
At the 2019 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, a study was presented showing how adopting the Mediterranean diet might reduce the risk of depression symptoms later in life.
The study’s findings indicated that an eating plan with a high content of vegetables but little intake of poultry and alcohol proved to be the most beneficial.
One of the results of the latest research shows how introducing the Mediterranean diet as an intervention was well-received by the patients themselves.
“Nearly all our participants stayed with the program, and many were keen to continue the diet once the study ended, which shows how effective, tolerable and worthwhile they found the intervention,” Bayes concluded.