Of all the problems that people face today, depression proves one of the hardest to pinpoint. People often suffer in secret, not wanting to burden others or admit that they need professional help. Those same people continue with their normal routines and, many times, unhealthy eating habits. Now, health professionals are actually linking diet and depression and have found success in using diet to treat the disorder.
Globally, millions of people suffer from depression, an estimated 300 million to be exact. In fact, major depression constitutes one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. These suffering people need options, and a simple change in diet could motivate many to finally take action.
For decades, people have correlated healthy eating with feeling better, including in the area of mental health. However, many people who do not eat well also have outside stress factors, such as a busy schedule or low income. Health professionals can easily attribute any depression in these groups to these outside factors strained by a poor diet.
Diet and Depression: A Study
However, one study set out to evaluate the direct link between diet and depression. The researchers found some interesting results. Several researchers and Australian institutions worked together to conduct a study around the topic at Deakin University in Victoria, Australia. They carried out the study over a 12-week period and observed 67 patients with moderate to severe depression.
For their control group, the patients received social support rather than switching their eating habits to a healthy, well-balanced diet. The other patients then received a series of seven one-hour dietary counseling sessions where they were advised to eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. The researchers used diet guidelines from both the Australian and Greek governments, forming a modified Mediterranean diet.
After the trial period, the researchers found that over 30 percent of the patients had gone into remission with their depression. Only 8 percent of the control group actually experienced this same improvement.
According to one proponent of the diet for depression idea, Dr. Drew Ramsey, the participants that showed the most remarkable results had improved their diet the most. This trial has greatly encouraged the research on this important topic, helping researchers understand and better help patients suffering from depression.
How Diet Influences Depression
Most people in America today do not associate their diet and depression together. However, because food does influence energy levels and mood, the link only makes sense.
One troubling study found that nearly 60 percent of Americans eat ultra-processed foods, the kind whose ingredient list runs long and includes unfamiliar names. What troubled researchers the most about this study is the fact that 90 percent of added sugars come from these processed foods.
Since Americans are eating a lot of processed meals, they’re also taking in an excessive amount of added sugar. For people with depression, this diet filled with added sugar does little to help them.
It might give a short energy burst, but it will eventually cause energy to sink, bringing any happy moods down with it. In addition, the empty calories will leave the body devoid of essential nutrients that might help to boost a person’s mood.
Many people also love caffeine, drinking multiple cups each day. Again, they consume the usual excess sugar and empty calories. However, the caffeine can also disrupt sleep and cause anxiety or nervous tremors.
In addition, people with depression may have a tendency to turn to alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol depresses the central nervous system. This vital system processes information through the senses and controls emotion. Depressing this system will directly influence a person’s mood for the worse, especially those dealing with depression.
A Healthy Diet
Rather than turning to an unhealthy diet, people with depression should focus on getting in plenty of fruits and vegetables. Then, they should add in lean meats, including red meat high in iron. To round out their improved diet, they should also drink plenty of water, forgoing caffeinated and sugary beverages.
According to the research, diet and depression do go hand in hand. Those suffering from depression should eliminate processed foods as much as possible. Instead, they should replace them with a plant-rich diet alongside lean, quality meats. With a few simple changes in lifestyle, these patients can improve their mental health and return to normal activities with renewed energy and joy.
This article first appeared on AskDrManny.com.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.