Short-Term Dietary Change Improves Depression Symptoms

Brain-healthy nutrients found in whole foods may be key to reducing depression severity

Proper brain function depends on good nutrition. Omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and zinc are key nutrients for brain tissue. B12 vitamin, folate, and vitamin B6 are involved in the production of neurotransmitters, and zinc has antioxidant effects in the brain. the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA they are important for the structure of brain cell membranes. Inadequate levels of each of these nutrients have been linked to an increased risk of depression.

Protection against oxidative stress makes antioxidants derived from plant foods beneficial for the brain. Additionally, many phytonutrients have anti-inflammatory and other non-antioxidant functions that may also improve brain health.

In contrast, fast food consumption has a dose-dependent relationship with the likelihood of depression, and higher consumption of commercial baked goods (muffins, donuts, etc.) is also associated with a 38% increased risk of depression.

Diet as a quick treatment for depression

A new study investigated whether improving the diets of young adults with symptoms of depression could improve those symptoms. Men and women ages 17 to 35 were surveyed, and those with moderate to severe depressive symptoms and high intakes of sugar and saturated fat were invited to participate.

Half of the participants were asked to follow a diet that included five servings of vegetables a day, plus whole grains, legumes, fruits, nuts and seeds, turmeric and cinnamon. They were also instructed to cut back on sugars, other refined carbohydrates, processed meats and sugary drinks. Lean meats, eggs, unsweetened dairy products, fish, and olive oil were also allowed. The other group received no dietary instructions. They were only asked to continue their regular diets and return after three weeks for follow-up.

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Importantly, the researchers were able to validate that the diet switch group increased their consumption of phytochemical-rich fruits and vegetables by using skin spectrophotometry. This light-based measurement responds to the “yellow color” of the skin from the level of carotenoids in the skin, which is determined by the intake of carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables.

Depression scores improve along with skin carotenoid scores

Before and after the dietary intervention, the participants completed surveys rating the frequency and severity of depression symptoms. The participants were contacted again by phone three months later for another survey. Depression scores decreased in the dietary intervention group between baseline and three weeks, but remained the same in the control group. Improvement in depression scores improved proportionally to increases in fruit and vegetable intake as measured by skin carotenoid scores. There were also improvements in measures of stress and anxiety.

After three months, about 80 percent of the diet change group said they had maintained at least some aspects of the diet. The group’s depression scores remained similar to their scores at the three-week follow-up, which were lower than their baseline scores. Three weeks of small improvements — eating more vegetables and fruits and cutting back on high-glycemic, refined carbohydrates and processed meats — put the participants on the path to making long-term dietary improvements and maintaining lower levels of depression symptoms.


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