Improving Depression with Healthy Diets
Fri, December 9, 2022

Improving Depression with Healthy Diets

Numerous researches proved that eating healthy foods may improve your mental health / Photo Credit: Shutterstock


Researchers from Macquarie University in Australia found that healthy diets can help improve depressive symptoms in young adults in just a few weeks. Results of the randomized controlled trial showed that three weeks of eating a healthy diet improved the overall mood as well as symptoms of anxiety. The randomized trial showed encouraging results, but others remained skeptical about the effectiveness of a healthy diet on being a full-fledged treatment for depression.

Prevalence of depression

Depression is among the most common mental health disorders and affects over 300 million people globally. Not only is it the leading cause of disability but it's also a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease, according to the World Health Organization.

At its worst, depression may lead to suicide—the second leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 29 years old, with nearly 800,000 people dying because of it. 

Effective treatments for depression reach fewer than those who are affected globally even if they are widely known. In fact, the WHO said fewer than 10 percent of people diagnosed with depression in most countries have received such treatments.



It added that the lack of resources, trained healthcare providers, and social stigma surrounding mental disorders hinder people from seeking the help they need. Another barrier to effectively addressing the issue is an inaccurate assessment. Depressed people and those who don't have the disorder are both often misdiagnosed—with those who don't have depression being prescribed with antidepressants.

Medication and therapy are just some of the interventions that help address the issue that come with depression and reduce its risks. Earlier studies found that a healthy diet can help in lowering the risk of the disorder.

Healthy meals against depression

The link between poor dietary habits and depression is backed by numerous studies, although it is unclear if a bad diet contributes to risks of depression or if this habit is a symptom of the disorder. This is because there are only a few randomized clinical trials that investigated this connection.

These trials are the best way to determine the causality between dietary habits and depression. The new trial, although small and relatively short, was the latest of its kind and still offered significant evidence that indicates a possible causal association between diet and mood.



According to the New Atlas, an independent science and technology publication, the study analyzed 76 students with moderate to high symptoms of depression. They were divided into two groups: one continuing normal dietary patterns and the other undergoing a Mediterranean-style diet.

After three weeks, the group with the Mediterranean-style diet was found to improve in several measures. The researchers found depression scores shifting to normal and lower anxiety scores for the diet compared to the group with continuing normal dietary practices.

The study also checked in on the participants after three months. Although only 21 percent of the Mediterranean-style diet group said they continued with the healthy dietary practice, they still showed consistent mood improvements.

A placebo effect?

The results of the new study added to the growing body of the research base on the association between dietary habits and depression. Another known study is the 2018 work of Deakin University's Food and Mood Center in Australia called SMILE.

The SMILE project, which focused on older adults, found that 32 percent of the people following a healthy diet "no longer met the criteria for depression," CNN reported, adding that only eight percent achieved the same results from those who received social support and no dietary intervention.

Both the recent study and the 2018 SMILE research indicated the benefits of a healthy diet in association with depression. But not everyone is convinced of healthy dietary practices being a means to treat depression.

One of the limitations of this dietary trial is it's impossible to produce blind control since the groups know if they are under a dietary intervention or not, which could lead to a significant placebo effect.


Many people around the world are suffering from depression / Photo Credit: Shutterstock


For Paul Keedwell, a psychiatrist from Cardiff University who did not work on this new study, the conclusions of the study were rather limited in determining how much diet can improve mood.

"While the findings are encouraging, there is probably a strong placebo effect operating in the healthy diet group," Keedwell said. He expressed his doubts about eating a healthy diet being more important compared to timely access to effective "psychiatric care, physical exercise, and emotional support."

The researchers recognized the limitations of their trial and didn't claim that eating healthier will single-handedly address depression. Still, they asserted that the majority of evidence—regardless of causal mechanisms—indicated the relationship between a healthy diet and mood improvements.

They added that reducing the intake of processed foods and increasing consumption of healthy food, vegetables, as well as fish and olive oil help in improving depression symptoms in young adults.

"These findings add to a growing literature showing a modest change to diet is a useful adjunct therapy to reduce symptoms of depression," the researchers concluded.