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Study confirms link between Mediterranean diet and mental health

Health

The Mediterranean diet has again been proven to be a valuable protection tool against depression.

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Dr Natalie Parletta

Senior Research Fellow University of South Australia +61 8 830 21757

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A University of South Australia study published today in Nutritional Neuroscience, found that participants who switched to a Mediterranean diet experienced on average a 45 per cent reduction in the severity of symptoms and an improved quality of life.

The six-month study included 152 participants with severe depression of which 75 were put on Mediterranean diets while the other 77 formed a social group with no dietary restrictions.

The diet group attended fortnightly nutrition and cooking workshops to teach a range of Mediterranean recipes and principles. Participants were then given hampers containing recipe ingredients and additional items such as extra virgin olive oil, vegetables, fruit, tinned legumes, tinned tuna, mixed nuts and a three-month supply of fish oil capsules.

The social group, which also met fortnightly for three months, achieved a small but far less significant reduction in symptoms.

University of South Australia Senior Research Fellow Dr Natalie Parletta led the study and said it followed a body of research over the past decade that has shown links between diet and depression and anxiety.

“The brain is an organ and like any organ it needs nutrients to function well, it needs healthy blood flow and basically poor physical health impacts on the brain and on mental health,” she said.

“The reason we chose the Mediterranean diet is because it’s been the subject of a lot of research and it’s basically a diet that’s high in plant foods such as vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and the use of olive oil as the main fat also distinguishes it from a lot of other diets.”

“It is also low in red meat consumption, processed foods and sweets.”

It follows similar research conducted by Professor Felice Jacka at Deakin University in Melbourne and published earlier this year.

“These are the first two randomised control trials looking at diet and depression worldwide and the results were incredibly similar so hopefully people are going to start taking notice,” Dr Parletta said.

“It’s high time that diet and lifestyle changes are considered at the forefront of treatment options for both physical and mental health, which are closely related.

“This research has important implications for people suffering from depression – a debilitating condition that carries the largest burden of disease worldwide.”

Dr Parletta said the Mediterranean lifestyle also promoted social interaction where people cook and eat together, often in large groups.

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