Better nutrition may help young men overcome depression


Depression is a common mental health problem that primarily affects young adults. It is an important risk factor for suicide, the leading cause of death in young adults.

A new study assessed the impact of a Mediterranean diet on symptoms of depression in young men. They were surprised to see that young men with poor diets saw a significant improvement in their symptoms of depression.

A 12-week open-label randomized controlled trial in parallel groups was conducted to assess the effect of a Mediterranean diet in the treatment of moderate to severe depression in young men.

Lead researcher Jessica Bayes, Ph.D. candidate for the UTS School of Health, said: “We were surprised at how willing the young men were to embrace a new diet,” Bayes said. “People assigned to the Mediterranean diet were able to significantly modify their original diet, under the guidance of a nutritionist, over a short period of time.”

“This suggests that physicians and psychologists should consider referring depressed young men to a nutritionist or dietitian as an important part of treatment for clinical depression.”

The research adds to the growing discipline of nutritional psychiatry, which strives to study the impact of specific nutrients, foods and diets on mental health. The diet used in the study consisted mostly of colorful vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fatty fish, olive oil and raw unsalted nuts.

Bayes mentioned, “The primary goal was to increase diet quality with fresh, whole foods while reducing consumption of ‘fast’ foods, sugar and processed red meat.”

“There are many reasons why we scientifically believe that food affects mood. For example, around 90% of serotonin, a chemical that helps us feel happy, is made in our gut by our gut microbes. There is new evidence that these microbes can communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve, in what is called the gut-brain axis.

“To get beneficial microbes, we need to feed them fiber, which is found in legumes, fruits, and vegetables.”

“About 30% of depressed patients do not respond adequately to standard treatments for major depressive disorder such as cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressants.”

“Almost all of our participants stayed with the program. Many were keen to continue the diet after the study was completed, showing how effective, tolerable and helpful they found the intervention.

Journal reference:

  1. Jessica Bayes, Janet Schloss, David Sibbritt. The effect of a Mediterranean diet on symptoms of depression in young men (the “AMMEND” study): a randomized controlled trial. DO I: 10.1093/ajcn/nqac106

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