According to a new study from Rush University Medical Center, US, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or a DASH diet of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, may lead to a reduced risk of depression.
The DASH diet focuses on fruits and vegetables, fat-free or low-fat dairy products and limits foods that are high in fats and sugar.
It was found that the study participants who adhered to the DASH diet were less likely to develop depression than those not following the diet.
A healthy lifestyle benefits mental health
Depression is the main contributor to mental health problems in Europe, with around 7% of the population suffering from major depression each year.
Study author and vascular neurologist and assistant professor in Rush’s Department of Neurological Sciences, Dr Laurel Cherian, said: “Depression is common in older adults and more frequent in people with memory problems, vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or people who have had a stroke.
“There is evidence linking healthy lifestyle changes to lower rates of depression, and this study sought to examine the role that diet plays in preventing depression.”
Studying dietary habits
The National Institutes of Aging-funded study evaluated a total of 964 participants of the Rush Memory and Aging Project with an average age of 81 annually for approximately six-and-a-half years.
Each of the participants was monitored for symptoms of depression and then filled out questionnaires about how often they ate various foods.
The researchers then examined how closely the participants reported diets such as the DASH diet, Mediterranean diet and the traditional Western diet.
It was found that 11% of those who followed the DASH diet more closely were less likely to develop depression than those who did not.
Researchers also found that the individuals who followed the Western diet of higher saturated fats and red meats were more likely to develop depression.
Are these findings definitive?
Cherian noted, however, that this study does not prove that the DASH-style diet leads to reduced risk of depression; it only shows an association.
She concluded: “Future studies are now needed to confirm these results and to determine the best nutritional components of the DASH diet to prevent depression later in life and to best help people keep their brains healthy.”