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NMU 244 – Dietary Modification Shown to Improve Depression in Young Men

Nutrition/Natural Medicine Update No 244 (May 31, 2022)

with Dr. James Meschino

Topic: Dietary Modification Shown to Improve Depression in Young Men

Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (April 2022)


I’ve been asked many times over years to provide a presentation to various companies and organizations on the ability of dietary modifications to prevent or improve symptoms of depression. Until now I had to tell them, much to their disappointment and mine, that there were no published studies to show that positive dietary changes have any impact on depression. There are studies showing that certain supplements can be helpful, as well as exercise, but no studies were available regarding dietary modification. Well, that all changed on April 20, 2022, when a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that switching to a more Mediterranean diet was highly beneficial in improving symptoms of depression in a group of 72 young male patients (ages 18-25 years) diagnosed with moderate to severe depression. In this randomized, controlled study the group that was provided with dietary coaching aimed at switching them to a more Mediterranean style diet showed a significant improvement in their symptoms and quality of life scores by the end of the 12-week study, compared to the control group who made no dietary changes.

This is important for several reasons:

  1. Roughly 30% of depressed patients fail to adequately respond to standard treatments for major depressive disorders such as cognitive behavioral therapy and anti-depressant medications.
  2. In Australia, where this study was conducted, one million Australians each year are diagnosed with depression, which not only diminishes their quality of life but also increases the risk of suicide, the leading cause of death in young adults. This, of course, is similar to stats in many other countries.
  3. Nearly all the participants introduced to the Mediterranean diet stayed on the program. This is counter to what many doctors believe, who think that people are unable or unwilling to make positive dietary changes, especially if they feel depressed. Well, with proper coaching from a nutritionist it appears that they can, and they will. And it really helps. As the researchers reported, “Nearly all our participants stayed with the program, and many were keen to continue the diet once the study ended, which shows how effective, tolerable, and worthwhile they found the intervention.”

So, how might a more Mediterranean diet be helpful in preventing depression and as an adjunctive measure in treating depression? A Mediterranean diet emphasizes the intake of colorful vegetables (red, green, yellow, and orange), legumes (beans and peas), whole grains, some fatty fish (rich in omega-3 fats), olive oil and raw unsalted nuts. In this study, the emphasis was on fresh whole foods while reducing the intake of fast foods, sugar, and processed red meat. It is thought that the high fiber content of whole grains, vegetables, beans, peas, and nuts serves as a source of fiber for the friendly gut bacteria, helping them to thrive in the large intestine. These bacteria are responsible for producing 90% of the serotonin found in the body, which appears to influence the brain via the gut-brain connection or axis (via the Vagus nerve). Serotonin, of course, is the brain chemical that helps us feel happy. Higher serotonin levels are known to help improve mood and feelings of happiness and contentment. The researchers conclude their paper by stating that these results highlight the important role of nutrition for the treatment of depression, suggesting that clinicians should provide this type of dietary advice and coaching as part of their treatment protocol for depression with specific demographic populations.

I have included the research study reference in the text below.

Jessica Bayes, Janet Schloss, David Sibbritt. The effect of a Mediterranean diet on the symptoms of depression in young males (the “AMMEND” study): A Randomized Control Trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2022.

Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great,

Dr. Meschino

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