Following a healthy dietary pattern comprised of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and a low amount of processed meats helps prevent the onset of depression, a new study says. The study published in the journal BMC Medicine suggests that depression could be linked with nutrient deficits.
The research looked extensively into diet and its effect on physical as well as exploring the link between nutrition and mental health. This marked the first time several healthy dietary patterns and their association with the risk of depression have been analyzed together.
Three diets were compared:
- The Mediterranean Diet
- The Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010
- The Pro-Vegetarian Dietary Pattern
The participants 15,092 that were free of depression at the beginning of the study were given a scoring system to measure their adherence to a selected diet. The higher the dietary score indicated that the participant was eating a healthier diet. Foods such as meat and sweets sources of animal fats, saturated and trans fatty acids were negatively scored while nuts, fruits and vegetables- sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals were positively scored.
The participants were also required to complete a questionnaire that assessed dietary intake at the beginning of the study and again 10 years later. The results from the final questionnaire consisted of 1,550 participants reporting a clinical diagnosis of depression or use of antidepressant drugs after a media follow-up of 8.5 years.
One limitation of the 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 identify whether it is minerals and vitamins or proteins and carbohydrates that cause depression.
Interestingly, The Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 was associated with the greatest reduction of risk of depression but most of the effect could be explained by its similarity with the Mediterranean Diet. Common nutrients and food items such as omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and moderate alcohol intake were present in both patterns (Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 and Mediterranean diet) could be responsible for the observed reduced risk in depression associated with a good adherence to the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010. "We wanted to understand what role nutrition plays in mental health, as we believe certain dietary patterns could protect our minds, explained lead researcher Almudena Sanchez-Villegas of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
These diets are all associated with physical health benefits and now we find that they could have a positive effect on our mental health. The protective role is ascribed to their nutritional properties, where nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables (sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals) could reduce the risk of depression. A threshold effect may exist. The noticeable difference occurs when participants start to follow a healthier diet. Even a moderate adherence to these healthy dietary patterns was associated with an important reduction in the risk of developing depression. 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, he continued. 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.
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