Diet influence a lot in terms of health, including weight, athletic performances, risk of cardiovascular and chronic disease and type 2 diabetes. According to research, it can affect mental health, with a strong effect on depression and anxiety, which are the most common issues of mental health worldwide.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), depression could be one of the main health problems in the world until 2030. So, there’s no surprise that researchers are continuously searching for new methods to reduce the impact of mental health conditions, rather than using actual therapies and drugs.
Researchers have two major questions about it:
- -”Does diet help prevent mental health problems?”
- -”Are nutritional interventions useful in the treatment of these diseases?”
A recent study, called ”SMILES” is one of the first randomized and controlled trails, who examined the role of diet in the treatment of depression. Over 12 weeks, 67 people with moderate or severe depression received dietary counseling or social support in addition to current treatment. The dietary intervention was similar to a Mediterranean diet, in that it emphasized vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fatty fish, extra virgin olive oil, legumes and raw nuts. It also allowed moderate amounts of red meat and dairy.
At the end of the study, those in the diet group, had significantly improvements in reducing depression symptoms. Only 8% of the individuals in the control group obtained remission, compared to 32% of those in the diet group. Although these results seem promising, the SMILES study was short-term. As a result, larger, long-term studies are needed to apply its findings to a larger population.
Even so, another study with 1025 people, overweighed with mild depressive symptoms, the researchers investigated the impact of both a multi-nutrient supplement, as well as food-related behavioral activation on mental health outcomes. The scientists found no significant difference in depressive episodes compared to a placebo after 12 months. In the same year, a meta-analysis of 16 randomized controlled trials found that dietary interventions significantly reduced the symptoms of depression, but not anxiety.
The study of nutrition and how it affects mental health is ongoing. Although more research is needed, current studies suggest that we may have some influence on our mental health through our food choices. However, we must keep in mind that diet is only one part of the much more complex subject which is mental health.