Researchers are hot on the trail of finding out if we can treat or prevent depression by choosing certain foods over others. A new paper published in BMC Medicine discusses how we can learn about diet and depression from studies about diet and heart disease.
To date, there is a lack of quality studies into how a person’s diet impacts depression. But this could be a huge new frontier for helping people manage their mental health. The authors note that depression is similar in many aspects to heart disease. Both of them are influenced by inflammation, poor cholesterol and fat levels, and problems with the lining of blood vessels (a condition called “endothelial dysfunction”).
With these shared risk factors, depression and heart disease may share underlying causes as well. That would include a diet that is high in cholesterol and saturated fat, for instance.
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Studies have pinpointed certain ways of eating that promote or shield against depressed feelings. Fast food, processed food, unhealthy snacks, and alcohol all put you at greater risk of depression. On the other hand, we know that following something like the Mediterranean diet (high in vegetables, fish and whole grains) lowers your risk for depression. But most of these studies simply draw a link, generally among a large population of people, rather than figuring out why a food causes depression while another prevents it.
So, what we have is a guessing game at the moment, and that is what science needs to figure out. It’s hard to be certain that diet is responsible for depression. Perhaps depressed individuals are more inclined to reach for unhealthy foods. Then, we must realize the other risk factors involved, like marital status, physical activity levels, smoking, health conditions, and genetics.
The authors state that we need long-term, good-quality studies into diet and depression, much like we have done for heart disease. There are innumerable studies focusing on specific foods and their impact on the heart. That is what we need for depression, a condition rising in the public eye, and one that will be the subject of greater research intensity.
Sources for Today’s Articles:
How Certain Foods Can Fight Depression
Sanchez-Villegas, A., et al., “Diet, a new target to prevent depression?,” BMC Medicine 2013; 11: 3.