Young men with a poor diet reported a decrease in symptoms of depression when they switched to the Mediterranean diet compared to young men who underwent befriending therapy, a new study shows.
Researchers at the University of Technology Sydney observed 72 men aged 18-25 over 12 weeks, according to the study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Some were put on the Mediterranean diet, which usually involves eating lots of fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts, healthy grains, fish, olive oil, small amounts of meat and dairy, and red wine.
The control group was given befriending therapy, in which they were provided social support. Assessments were taken at the start of the study and after six and 12 weeks.
The young men on the Mediterranean diet measured “significantly higher” on the Beck Depression Inventory Scale and a quality-of-life measurement, the study says.
The finding suggests doctors and psychologists should consider referring depressed young men to a nutritionist or dietitian, Jessica Bayes, the lead researcher and a doctorate candidate at the UTS Faculty of Health, said in a school news release.
Bayes said the aim for the Mediterranean group was to eat more fresh foods and less fast food, sugar, and processed meats.
“There are lots of reasons why scientifically we think food affects mood. For example, around 90 percent of serotonin, a chemical that helps us feel happy, is made in our gut by our gut microbes. There is emerging evidence that these microbes can communicate to the brain via the vagus nerve, in what is called the gut-brain axis,” she said.
“To have beneficial microbes, we need to feed them fibre, which is found in legumes, fruits and vegetables.”
She said nearly all participants stayed with the program and planned to continue when the study ended, she said.
The Mediterranean diet is known to have many benefits, such as lowering a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and other conditions.