An estimated 16.1 million American adults experience at least one major depressive episode each year, according to the latest statistics published by the National Institute of Mental Health. Sufferers often go to great lengths to relieve their symptoms, frequently resorting to medications and therapy.
Now researchers are finding that diet may play an important role in improving people’s moods.
A small, preliminary ‘SMILES’ study, appearing in the January 30, 2017 BMC Medicine,followed 67 participants for 12 weeks. One group adhered to the “ModMed” Diet, which is similar to the well-known Mediterranean diet and centers on the consumption of fruits and vegetables, olive oil, raw nuts, fish and whole grains. A second group ate their regular diets but received additional social support. Psychological assessments were performed on all members before and after the study.
The results were exciting. Participants in the dietary group showed a 32 percent decline in depressive symptoms compared to the control group’s 8 percent decline.
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The study authors suggested several reasons dietary changes might influence depression. Certain foods reduce inflammatory and oxidative stress on the brain. They alter brain plasticity and microbes in the gut. Plus, behavioral changes involved with shopping for and cooking fresh, whole foods may have therapeutic effects.
Of course, the data aren’t definitive. More research on larger numbers of subjects is needed to confirm the findings. And serious, persistent bouts of depression may require more aggressive forms of treatment. Never stop your current course of medication or therapy before consulting your mental health provider.
Still, the information reminds us that there is plenty we can do to enhance emotional well-being. It may be as close as our dinner plates.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.
How to follow a Mediterranean diet:
▪ Pile on the fruits and vegetables. Strive for seven to 10 servings a day.
▪ Switch to whole-grain bread, pasta and cereal.
▪ Go nuts. Eat one serving each day of raw, unsalted nuts.
▪ Use olive oil as a healthy replacement for butter or margarine. Aim for 3 tablespoons a day.
▪ Spice it up. Herbs and spices make food tasty and are also rich in health-promoting substances.
▪ Go fish. Eat fish once or twice a week. Fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are healthy choices.
▪ Rein in the red meat. Consume lean red meats no more than 3-4 times per week.
▪ Choose low-fat dairy. Limit higher fat dairy products such as whole or 2 percent milk, cheese and ice cream. Switch to skim milk, fat-free yogurt and low-fat cheese.
▪ Raise a glass to healthy eating. If it’s OK with your doctor, have a glass of wine at dinner. If you don’t drink alcohol, you don’t need to start. Drinking purple grape juice may be an alternative to wine.
Source: Adapted from the Mayo Clinic website