Depression can alter diet and appetite, but can the opposite also hold true? A new study finds that an individual’s diet may also affect his or her risks for developing depression.

Plant-Based Diets Against Depression

Among psychiatric disorders, depression has the most societal costs in developed countries. In recent years, many efforts have been made to bring mental health into the limelight so as to open the conversation and remove the stigma surrounding it, but does diet have a place in that conversation? Evidently, a new study says yes.

Researchers of a new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry had a closer look and found a clear link between a person’s risk of developing depression and his or her diet quality. A total of 41 studies were reviewed, four of which specifically looked at the link between the Mediterranean diet and the depression risk among 36,556 adults living in France, UK, the United States, Australia, and Spain.

What they found was that those whose diets closely resembled the Mediterranean diet had 33 percent lower risks of developing depression compared to those whose diets least resembled the Mediterranean diet.

“To conclude, adhering to a healthy diet, in particular a traditional Mediterranean diet, or avoiding a pro-inflammatory diet appears to confer some protection against depression in observational studies,” researchers note.

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet focuses primarily on a plant-based diet that emphasizes the consumption of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts. The consumption of fish and poultry are also encouraged, while eating red meat is limited to just a few times a month. In addition, moderate consumption of red wine, regular exercise, and replacing butter with healthy oils and salt with herbs and spices are also important hallmarks of the diet.

According to the researchers, diet can affect mental health because of the way that it can cause damage to the brain through oxidative stress, changes in blood flow or inflammation, and insulin resistance. The Mediterranean diet’s emphasis on a plant-based diet, which is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, protects the brain from such detrimental effects.

Further, recent research also suggests the importance of diet in the formation of neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with moods, and how the gut microbiota communicates with the brain, thereby influencing behavior.

“The growing evidence for nutritional psychiatry suggests that GPs and mental health professionals should now seriously consider including dietary counselling for patients who are at risk of depression,” said Dr. Camille Lassale, research associate at University College London, lead author of the study.

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