Dietary improvement can reduce severity of depressive symptoms

One of the most undervalued ways of improving well-being, dietary intervention, could be helpful for lessening symptoms of mood disturbances, a new study has found.

The study, carried out at the University of Manchester and Research Fellow at NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University, examined existing data of nearly 45,826 individuals who’ve participated in clinical trials of dietary improvements focusing on mental illness.

Researchers analyzed collective data from 16 randomized controlled trials which targetted dietary interventions and its efficiency in reducing the severity of depression and anxiety.

Dr. Joseph Firth, a lead author of the study, proclaims that the findings clearly demonstrate therapeutic effects for depressive symptoms, but no indication of beneficiary outcomes on anxiety.

“The overall evidence for the effects of diet on mood and mental well-being had up to now yet to be assessed,” Dr. Firth said. “But our recent meta-analysis has done just that; showing that adopting a healthier diet can boost peoples’ mood. However, it has no clear effects on anxiety.”

Based on the findings, researchers were able to determine that all forms of dietary improvement provide nearly identical effects on mental well-being, weight loss, as well as symptoms of depression.

“The similar effects from any type of dietary improvement suggests that highly-specific or specialised diets are unnecessary for the average individual. Instead, just making simple changes is equally beneficial for mental health. In particular, eating more nutrient-dense meals which are high in fibre and vegetables, while cutting back on fast-foods and refined sugars appears to be sufficient for avoiding the potentially negative psychological effects of a ‘junk food’ diet,” Dr. Firth suggests.

All in all, the results of the study, researchers say, increase the notion that lifestyle interventions are a significant approach to the treatment of depressive symptoms.

“Specifically, our results within this study found that when dietary interventions were combined with exercise, a greater improvement in depressive symptoms was experienced by people. Taken together, our data really highlight the central role of eating a healthier diet and taking regular exercise to act as a viable treatment to help people with low mood,” said Dr. Brendon Stubbs, co-author of the study.

“Further research is still required to examine the effects of dietary interventions in people with clinically-diagnosed psychiatric conditions.”

The findings were published in Psychosomatic Medicine.