By Kenda Hettinger a recent ASU Nutrition Student
Mental health has become a major issue in the United States. According to the CDC, 1 out of 6 adults will have depression at some point in their lifetime and 3.2% of children ages 3-17 years old have diagnosed depression. The evidence is stacking up that diet can be to blame and can also be the fix. Signs and symptoms of depression are:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Moving or talking more slowly
- Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment
If you are thinking about suicide text HELLO to 741741.
In 2014, a systematic review was published in the American Society for Nutrition. According to this analysis, studies competed on individual nutrients that were inconsistent and did not consider how nutrients work together in whole foods. The authors pooled 13 observational studies and concluded that a diet high in fruit, vegetables, fish, and whole grains is associated with lower depression risk. They also felt like more evidence was needed to confirm this finding.
In 2017, a meta-analysis turned the data around and linked a poor diet with increased depression risk. They found that high intakes of red and/or processed meats, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, and potatoes with high-fat gravy increase your risk of depression.
The most recent study, published on October 9, 2019, found that even a brief diet intervention can reduce depression symptoms. This trial put young adults, who had previously eaten a standard western diet, on a Mediterranean-style diet. They were instructed to increase their intake of vegetables, fruits, wholegrain cereals, lean meats, tofu, legumes, fish, nuts, and seeds. They were also instructed to use the spices cinnamon and turmeric daily. After just 3 weeks on this Mediterranean-style diet, the members of the study improved in not only depression symptoms but also anxiety and stress symptoms. To take it a step further, the researchers called the members of the study back 3 months later and most of them had kept to the diet and were still experiencing a reduction in depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms.
There have also been numerous studies linking physical activity with decreased depressive symptoms. Including a study done in 2017 that focused on children and adolescents. You do not have to join a gym or pick up a sport to reap these benefits, it can be as simple as a daily family walk around the neighborhood.
If you or a family member is experiencing depression symptoms, examine your diet and lifestyle. There may be ways to naturally combat these symptoms and give your brain a fighting chance. Reduce your intake of ultra-processed and fatty foods, and consume more vegetables, fruits, whole food sources of fat, and good quality proteins. Make sure you are getting some movement in daily.
Lai, J., Hiles, S., Bisquera, A., Hure, A., McEvoy, M., & Attia, J. (2014). A systematic review and meta-analysis of dietary patterns and depression in community-dwelling adults. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 99(1), 181-197
Li, Ye, Lv, Mei-Rong, Wei, Yan-Jin, Sun, Ling, Zhang, Ji-Xiang, Zhang, Huai-Guo, & Li, Bin. (2017). Dietary patterns and depression risk: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research, 253, 373-382
Korczak, D., Madigan, S., & Colasanto, M. (2017). Children’s Physical Activity and Depression: A Meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 139(4), Pediatrics, Vol.139(4)
Francis, H., Stevenson, R., Chambers, J., Gupta, D., Newey, B., & Lim, C. (2019). A brief diet intervention can reduce symptoms of depression in young adults – A randomized controlled trial. PloS One, 14(10), E0222768.