A Better Diet Helps Beat Depression In Young Men

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A Better Diet Helps Beat Depression In Young Men

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Young men with a poor diet saw a significant improvement in their symptoms of depression when they switched to a healthy Mediterranean diet, a new study shows.

Young men who suffer from depression can improve their mental outlook by changing to a healthy Mediterranean diet, says a new study.

Depression is one of the world’s most common mental health conditions – so much so that depression and anxiety is now endemic, according to the World Health Organisation – that affect millions globally each year.

It is also a significant risk factor in self-harm and suicide, which unfortunately remains a leading cause of death among young adults.

The research, led by Jessica Bayes, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia,  was recently published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Jessica says the study was the first randomised clinical trial to assess the impact of a Mediterranean diet on the symptoms of depression in young men aged between 18 and 25.

“We were surprised by how willing the young men were to take on a new diet,” Jessica says. “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.”

The study adds to a growing body of scientific research that is known as nutritional psychiatry, a discipline that investigates the effect that nutrients, foods and dietary regimes have on mental health.

Jessica and her colleagues based their research on a diet rich in colourful vegetables, legumes and wholegrains, oily fish, olive oil and raw, unsalted nuts.

“The primary focus was on increasing diet quality with fresh wholefoods while reducing the intake of ‘fast’ foods, sugar and processed red meat,” Jessica says.

“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. 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.”

About 30 per cent of people who suffer depressive episodes do not respond to standard treatments for major depressive disorder such as cognitive behaviour therapy and anti-depressant medications. 

Yet, those examined during the study nearly all stuck with the diet. “Nearly all our participants stayed with the program”, says Jessica. “Many were keen to continue the diet once the study ended, which shows how effective, tolerable and worthwhile they found the intervention.”

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