Adding fiber and plants to your diet could be the key to tackling depression
Eating a Mediterranean diet could be more effective in tackling depression than therapy among young men, a study suggests.
A clinical trial, led by the University of Technology Sydney, is the first to assess the impact of a Mediterranean diet – which consists of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and grains – on young men’s mental health.
The findings suggested that doctors should recommend patients to a nutritionist or dietician as part of their treatment plan, the researchers said.
Previous research has suggested that following the diet can cut the risk of depression by reducing inflammation in the body.
One study, by scientists at University College London, found that people who ate plenty of fruit, vegetables, fish and nuts had a 33 per cent lower risk of suffering from depression.
This latest research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involved 72 men aged 18 to 25. One group was assigned a Mediterranean diet for 12 weeks, while another group took part in befriending therapy.
They were assessed at the beginning of the trial and then again after six and 12 weeks.
The patients in the Mediterranean group were found to have a “significantly” higher quality of life score than the group who undertook befriending sessions.
Their BDI-II score, which is a widely used measure of depressive symptoms, also improved more quickly.
The researchers said that the diet may help people suffering with poor mental health by helping their gut release serotonin.
The chemical is made by gut microbes, but they need to be fed fibre, found in fruit and vegetables, to work effectively.
The new findings came after official figures found that the risk of suicide for first-year male undergraduates is higher than their female counterparts.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published estimates of suicides among higher education students between the academic years ending 2017 and 2020.
Among male students, the suicide rate was 5.6 deaths per 100,000 students, compared to 2.5 per 100,000 for female students.
Jessica Bayes, from the University of Technology Sydney and lead researcher of this latest study, said: “These results highlight the important role of nutrition for the treatment of depression and should inform advice given by clinicians to this specific demographic population.
“The primary focus was on increasing diet quality with fresh whole foods, while reducing the intake of ‘fast’ foods, sugar and processed red meat.
“There are lots of reasons why scientifically we think food affects mood. For example, around 90 per cent of serotonin, a chemical that helps us feel happy, is made in our gut by our gut microbes.”
She added: “There is emerging evidence that these microbes can communicate to the brain via the vagus nerve, in what is called the gut-brain axis. To have beneficial microbes, we need to feed them fibre, which is found in legumes, fruits and vegetables.”