People who follow a conventional Mediterranean diet have reason to cheer: they are less likely to develop clinical depression, according to a report in
the October issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, which is published by the American Medical Association. The lifetime prevalence of mental disorders
is lower in the Mediterranean region compared with Northern Europe, presumably due at least in part to the diet now considered to be protective against
depression.

To examine the association between adherence to the Mediterranean dietary pattern (MDP) and the incidence of clinical depression, researchers studied the diets of more than 10,000 healthy men and women in Spain. Participants received positive marks for consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, cereal, legumes and fish; a healthy ratio of monounsaturated fats to saturated fatty acids in their diets; and moderate alcohol consumption. Negative marks were given for intake of meat or meat products and whole-fat dairy products.

At the end of 4.4 years (midway through the ongoing prospective study), the participants who had the highest MDP scores had a greater than 30% reduction in the risk of depression compared with those who scored lower. The researchers did not uncover the specific mechanisms for the MDP’s protection against depression. However, they speculated that the effect was due to the actual components of the diet, which are thought to improve blood vessel function, fight inflammation and repair oxygen-related cell damage, all of which reduce the chances of developing depression. The researchers also theorized that the synergistic combination of the diet’s components may add to the protective effect.