The 12-week randomised control trial was recently published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by researchers from the University of Technology Sydney.
Depression is a common mental health problem that affects about 1 million Australians each year. It is a major risk factor for suicide, which is the leading cause of death in young adults.
According to a new study, young men who had a poor diet saw a significant improvement in their depression symptoms when they switched to a healthy Mediterranean diet.
The study was the first randomised clinical trial to assess the impact of a Mediterranean diet on depression symptoms in young men, according to lead researcher Jessica Bayes, a PhD candidate in the UTS Faculty of Health (aged 18-25).
“We were surprised by how willing the young men were to take on a new diet, Bayes said. 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 said.
According to Bayes, the primary goal was to increase diet quality with fresh wholefoods while decreasing intake of ‘fast’ foods, sugar, and processed red meat.
There are numerous scientific reasons why researchers believe food influences mood. For example, our gut microbes produce approximately 90% of serotonin, a chemical that helps us feel happy. Bayes said there is growing evidence that these microbes can communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve, a process known as the gut-brain axis. She said people must consume fibre, which is found in legumes, fruits, and vegetables, in order to have beneficial microbes.
Approximately 30% of depressed patients do not respond correctly to current treatments for major depressive disorder, such as cognitive behaviour therapy and antidepressant medications.
The study’s diet included a variety of colourful vegetables, legumes and wholegrains, oily fish, olive oil, and raw, unsalted nuts.
The research contributes to the emerging field of nutritional psychiatry, which seeks to investigate the impact of specific nutrients, foods, and dietary patterns on mental health.