Depressed people often do not live very well. They don't move much and like to eat oily and sweet foods. That's not surprising. When you are powerless and depressed, you probably don't think much about sports and healthy eating. The lifestyle could not only be the result of mood, but also causally related to it. This relationship has been talked about for some time. And at least that's what epidemiological studies say.
For example, exercise should reduce the risk of depression; according to a study released in January this year by a quarter. A healthy diet should also help; According to US doctors, the risk is reduced by eleven percent. On the contrary, it can mean that lifestyle changes again have a positive effect on those affected or their mental state. According to researchers around Heather M. Francis of the Australian University of Macquerie, this has hardly been explored.
A decisive phase of life
For the study, the team specifically sought young, slightly depressed adults who did not pay attention to their diet. At this age, people are especially susceptible to depression, and at this stage of life, the course is often set for a later lifestyle, that is, it decides how much a healthy person later feeds or lives in general. 76 students, aged 17-35, were recruited. According to standardized diagnostic procedures, they had moderate depressive symptoms and were quite unhealthy, with lots of processed foods, lots of fat and sugar.
Half of the participants participated in the intervention, the other half continued to live as before. Initially, the diet group received an introduction from nutrition experts. The diet now includes Mediterranean foods: five servings of vegetables a day, two to three servings of fruits, plus whole grains and healthy proteins such as eggs, fish or tofu, dairy products, olive oil, nuts and spices. In addition, there was a recommendation to reduce simple carbohydrates, sugars, fats, and processed meats and soft drinks. In addition, the diet received recipes and food suggestions. To help change your diet, expensive foods like olive oil, nuts, and spices are available. And for the accumulated food shopping bills there was eventually an additional fee.
We talked on the phone about the participants every week. The intervention was scheduled in three weeks – according to the researchers, that should be enough for the initial physical changes. Subsequently, both groups were called for extensive mental, cognitive and medical tests.
In fact, the depressive symptoms in the diet group have decreased significantly, to the "normal" level, as the authors write. Most of those participants who strictly followed the diet. In the control group, however, nothing changed in their mental state. After three weeks of healthy eating, the students were less anxious and stressed than initially. Detailed estimates suggest that giving up unhealthy foods is at least as important as healthy products themselves. Three months later, when participants in the diet group spoke on the phone again, their mental health seemed stable.
What lies behind the context has not been explored in the study. Older theories have suggested that an unhealthy diet causes inflammation in the body or alters the gut microbiome. This, in turn, could have psychological consequences. As the researchers of the current study point out, a healthy diet certainly cannot replace psychotherapy or medication needed, but it can be a good supplement.
Eva Obermüller, Science.ORF.at