The Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of depression by 33%
Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders and a leading cause of disability worldwide. It has been associated with a poor quality of life, physical decline, increased risk of premature death and a heavy economic burden. In this context, depression is a major global health problem and reducing its prevalence by acting on changes associated with life factors, including diet, are of major importance.
The relationship between diet quality and depression has been analysed in several studies, leading to the main idea that in general, healthier diets (characterized by increased consumption of plant foods, whole grains, olive oil and fish) have been associated with a decreased risk of depression or depressive symptoms. Unhealthy Western eating habits (characterized by high consumption of sweet and fatty products, processed meat and refined cereal products) have been associated with an increased risk of depression or depressive symptoms.
In order to prevent chronic diseases and promote a good health, authorities have issued nutritional recommendations with dietary approaches in various areas of action, such as reducing cardiovascular disease by adopting the Mediterranean diet or reducing the incidence of hypertension and creating various scores that measure adherence to these dietary changes.
In general, studies investigating the association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and depression or depressive symptoms have identified a protective effect. People who follow this type of diet have a 33% lower risk of being diagnosed with depression. Following the systematic review of 41 scientific articles on diet and depression (including 20 longitudinal studies and 21 cross-sectional studies), the scientists concluded that the Mediterranean diet is the best choice for a good mental health.
Because nutritional recommendations were not issued primarily to prevent depression, analysing other diets is needed to examine whether some specific scores may perform better than others, thus leading to preventive strategies. Eating a healthy Mediterranean diet can lead to better mental health, but depression can also affect a person’s ability to follow a nutritious diet and lead a healthy life.
A diet rich in inflammatory foods such as trans fats, alcohol and processed meat leads to more risks of having depressive episodes. A pro-inflammatory diet can induce systemic inflammation, and this can directly increase the risk of depression.