Produce Over Prozac!

by Sandy Todd Webster on May 11, 2016

Behavior Change

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression, making it the leading cause of disability worldwide. It is also a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.

What if following a specific healthy dietary pattern could protect our minds and alleviate much of this burden? According to research published last year in the open-access journal BMC Medicine, a large study of more than 15,000 people suggests depression could be linked with nutrient deficits. Preventing the onset of depression could be as simple as keeping to a Mediterranean diet or other nutritious lineup rich in fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts and sparing in processed meats, say researchers.

Three diets were compared in the study: the Mediterranean diet, the Pro-vegetarian Dietary Pattern and the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010. Participants used a scoring system to measure their adherence to the selected diet (higher dietary scores indicated participants consumed a healthier diet).

The study included a cohort of 15,093 participants free of depression at the beginning of the study. Questionnaires to assess dietary intake were completed at the start of the project and again after 10 years. After a median follow-up of 8.5 years, a total of 1,051 participants reported a clinical diagnosis of depression or said that they’d used antidepressant drugs.

The Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 was associated with the greatest reduction of risk of depression. This eating pattern has various nutrients and foods in common with the Mediterranean diet; for example, omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and moderate alcohol intake.

Lead researcher Almudena Sánchez-Villegas, PhD, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, said that a “threshold effect”—wherein a noticeable difference occurs when participants start to follow a healthier diet—seemed to be evident. “Even a moderate adherence to these healthy dietary patterns was associated with an important reduction in the risk of developing depression,” she said. “However, we saw no extra benefit when participants showed high or very high adherence to the diets. So, once the threshold is achieved, the reduced risk plateaus even if participants were stricter with their diets and eating more healthily. This dose-response pattern is compatible with the hypothesis that suboptimal intake of some nutrients (mainly located in low adherence levels) may represent a risk factor for future depression.”

A limitation of this study was that the results were based on self-reported dietary intake and a self-reported clinical diagnosis of depression. More research is needed to predict the role of nutrient intake for neurophysiological requirements and to identify whether it is a suboptimal intake of minerals and vitamins or of proteins and carbohydrates that is linked to depression.

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About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL and IDEA FOOD & NUTRITION TIPS, the industry's leading resources for fitness, wellness and nutrition professionals worldwide. Sandy joined IDEA in 2001 as executive editor of IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER and IDEA FITNESS MANAGER magazines and was promoted to lead the editorial team in 2003. More than 20 years in magazine publishing, marketing communications and creative services have shaped her straightforward approach to multi-channel communication. Early experience in Los Angeles as a sports writer/reporter, and then enriching years as a managing editor in allied health care publishing have pulled her across a spectrum of stimulating subject matter. Fitness, health and nutrition reside at the perfect center of this content continuum, she feels. A Chicago native, Sandy grew up fully engaged in various competitive sports. Her drive and dedication as an athlete translate to a disciplined work ethic and unwavering approach to challenge in her career. Shortly after graduating journalism school from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, she was recruited to L.A. for her first post in magazine publishing. After two decades of working on magazines--and now in the throes of applying the unbelieveable multi-media content delivery options available in the magazine 2.0 world--she is still "completely in love" with the creative process it takes to deliver meaningful, inspirational content to end users. She is an accomplished home cook and gardner who would love to combine those skills and passions with her health and fitness background to continue educating readers about a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.