Recent study demonstrates how a healthy diet can reduce symptoms of depression

Recent research provides further evidence that a healthy diet may improve symptoms of depression. However, the diet featured on the study did not involve some type of new supplement, nor a new dietary approach.

The SMILES trial (Supporting the Modification of Lifestyle in Lowered Emotional States) highlighted a general healthy Mediterranean-inspired diet which focused on increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains, while decreasing the consumption of carbohydrates, sweets, and heavily processed foods.

For the study, the participants were allowed to continue the treatments for depression that they were currently doing, which mainly involved psychotherapy, antidepressant medications, or some combination of the two. This ensured that the researchers could determine the added benefit of dietary modification rather than testing the diet as a primary intervention.

The study involved 67 patients suffering from major depressive disorder which ranged from moderate to severe. They also had baseline diets that were not particularly healthy in the first place.

Half of the participants were randomly grouped into a dietary modification group which received seven sessions of personalized nutritional counseling and motivational support called “ModiMedDiet.” It emphasized healthier food choices as described above. The counselors also focused on reducing alcohol consumption – they allowed a maximum of two glasses of wine per day. The rest of the participants went to a control group that had social support, which was basically friendly chats with a research assistant.

Results showed that the participants in the dietary modification group generally improved their eating habits, which in turn improved symptoms of their depression. The main instrument used to track the participants’ depression severity indicated that those in the dietary modification group improved significantly more than the control group – in terms of raw scores, the mean depression score for the dietary modification group dropped from 26 to 15 over a period of 12 weeks, while the control group fell from 25 to only about 20.

This shows a fairly large effect that is comparable to some studies of antidepressant “augmentation” with other medications, such as antipsychotic agents, which are linked to some serious side effects.

By the end of the study, about a third of the participants in the dietary modification group were rated as being “in remission” from their depression symptoms compared to only eight percent in the control group. Anxiety scores also improved with the dietary modification. The improvement in depression symptoms was found to be independent of changes in weight.

The researchers acknowledge that it’s still unclear how a better diet improves depression symptoms, but they note that other research suggests pathways related to decreased inflammation, antioxidant effects, and changes in a person’s gut bacteria can affect brain activity.

Best foods to manage depression

As with any health problems, eating the right foods help manage the symptoms and even treat them. For depressive disorders, here are some foods that have been shown to improve its symptoms.

  • Dark green leafy vegetables — Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are some of healthiest foods out there. They contain vitamins A, C, E, and K, minerals, and phytochemicals, and are known to fight inflammation. Brain inflammation in particular is linked to severe depression.
  • Walnuts – Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which support brain function and improve depression symptoms. Seeds such as sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds are also excellent sources of brain-boosting omega-3s.
  • Berries — Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries contain high amounts of antioxidants that repair cells all over your body that are damaged by oxidative stress.
  • Tomatoes — Tomatoes contain high levels of folic acid, which are good for fighting depression. Folic acid can prevent the excess production of homocysteine in the body, which restricts the production of important neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine that improve one’s mood.

It’s important to consult your healthcare provider before deciding to add a diet plan as part of your depression treatment. DO NOT stop antidepressant medications on your own.

Learn more about depression and the natural ways to improve its symptoms at

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