Professor Felicie Jacka: It’s time we see diet as an important, new treatment approach to depression and anxiety.
For the first time, scientists have conducted a randomized controlled trial, to directly study the relationship between food and depression. The results show a significant correlation between people’s diets and their risk for depression.
The study was led by a team of scientists specialized in something called Nutritional Psychiatry Research, at Deakin University in Melbourne. Nutritional Psychiatry is a relatively new field of research, that examines the link between food, diet and mental health. Until a few years ago, no one talked about a potential link between diet and mental health, but lately, the relationship between the two has gained more and more attention. And an important, well-established hypothesis is that depression may be caused by chronic inflammation in the colon.
In the study, 33 participants with moderate or severe major depressive disorder, were assigned to a Mediterranean diet. At the end of the trial, after 12 weeks, the results showed that as many as one in three met the criteria for remission of depression. And the improvement was not explained by other factors, such as changes in physical activity or weight-loss, but closely related to the improved diet. The results were compared to a test group, in which the participants were assigned to receive social support, instead of support from clinical dietitians. Among the participants in that group, only 8% experienced a reduction in their depressive symptoms.
Professor Felice Jacka, president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research, is not surprised. According to her, extensive observational studies, animal research and laboratory experiments suggest that there’s a significant correlation between diet, gut bacteria and mental health, not least depression and anxiety. There’s been an alarming increase in mental health problems, and according to professor Jacka, the western way of life, with its junk food and limited physical activity, is a key risk factor. Certainly, more research need to be done, but professor Jacka points out that it’s time we see diet as an important, new strategy for the treatment of depression and anxiety.