Can This Simple Dietary Change Treat Depression?

Millions of Americans struggle with depression, anxiety, and other related illnesses.

In fact, depression alone is estimated to affect over 300 million people globally. Without proper treatment, conditions like these can quickly expand and mutate. Clinical depression, for example, can manifest in substance abuse, eating disorders, sleep disturbances, and even physical pain. All too often, we do not take our mental illnesses seriously until they have damaged our bodies and quality of life beyond repair.

While a typical treatment plan involving therapy and anti-depressant medication can be helpful, often it is not enough to manage these diseases. We need to use every weapon at our disposal. Researchers are discovering that lifestyle changes – on their own or combined with other tools – can be extremely helpful in reducing the severity of mental disorders. These changes can include exercise, outdoor time, mindfulness practices, and even spirituality.

An estimated one in ten Americans currently takes an anti-depressant. How many of us are also looking to our lifestyle choices in managing mental illness?

Recently, promising research has come to light exploring the effect that our dietary choices can have on our mental health.

A Deakin University study published earlier this year has found that even severe depression can be managed by making simple dietary changes.

The study treated two groups of severely depressed adults. One received traditional social support, while the other received dietary consultations and healthy meal plans. After three months, those who had altered their diets showed considerable improvement. Even more noteworthy was the observation that the closer a participant stuck to the prescribed diet, the greater the improvement seemed to be.

“We’ve known for some time that there is a clear association between the quality of people’s diets and their risk for depression. This is the case across countries, cultures, and age groups, with healthy diets associated with reduced risk, and unhealthy diets associated with increased risk for depression. However, this is the first randomized controlled trial to directly test whether improving diet quality can actually treat clinical depression,” explained Professor Felice Jacka, Director of Deakin’s Food and Mood Centre.

Professor Jacka went on to emphasize the profound impact of our mental health on our physical health and longevity.

“Importantly, depression also increases the risk of and, in turn, is also increased by, common physical illnesses such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Successfully improving the quality of patients’ diets would also benefit these illnesses.”

Thankfully, the diet responsible for these changes is not a difficult one to follow. The study’s participants increased their intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, fish, lean red meats, nuts, and olive oil. Simultaneously, they reduced their consumption of sugar, refined carbohydrates, fried foods, fast food, sugary drinks, and heavily processed meats. It’s a simple diet that focuses on food quality, rather than on weight loss or restriction.

In her memoir Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel described her experience with this disease. “That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.” If you feel as though there is no end in sight, don’t be afraid to seek help. Therapy, medication, and simple changes like these may be able to give you your life back.

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