Under the Hood

Depression Treatment: Does Healthy Eating Really Help?

Fruits and vegetables are known for their health benefits that could fight a number of conditions and diseases. The list may soon include depression.

A new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, shows that regular consumption of fruits and vegetables helped young adults diagnosed with the disorder to reduce its symptoms. Researchers said the patients mainly followed the Mediterranean diet. 

The team examined the effects of dietary habits of 76 adults, ages 17 to 35. The study, called SMILES trial, focused on people who were diagnosed with depression symptoms and consumed high amounts of processed foods, saturated fats and refined sugars. 

The researchers divided the participants into groups, with one receiving pointers to improve their diets, pantry items and money for grocery shopping. The other group did not get any food, money or nutritional guidance.

By the end of the study, the diet group that ate recommended food options showed improved mood, while the depression levels of participants that did not receive nutritional guidance remained the same. 

The improvements in the symptoms of the diet group continued after a three-month follow-up, the researchers said. 

"These findings add to a growing literature to suggest that healthy diet can be recommended as an effective therapy to improve depression symptoms, as an adjunct to pharmacological and psychological therapy," Heather Francis, study co-author and a clinical neuropsychologist and nutritional neuroscience researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney, told Live Science.

She said that eating fruits and vegetables potentially helped reduce harmful inflammation, a condition linked to poor dietary habits and higher risk of depression. The researcher hopes the same health benefits may appear in both young and older adults. 

However, some experts noted the study has limitations. The participants only included a select subset of patients with depression, according to Ana Ojeda, a licensed clinical psychologist at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, who was not involved in the study.

"Does this diet intervention reduce depression, generally, or only in teens with easy temperaments that can adhere to the plan?" she said. "We may find that kids with [more complex cases]... will not receive the same effect by modifying diet."  

Mediterranean Diet Health experts consider the Mediterranean diet as one of the healthiest diets ever created, which focus on natural food, mainly plants combined with healthy fats. Pixabay