We all feel blue from time to time, but major depressive disorder (MDD) is a condition that lasts for a long period of time. It’s a disease that people can’t just “get over” or “snap out of.” While antidepressant medications have been helpful for many people with MDD, they come with side effects of their own, such as weight gain and loss of libido. New research is showing that dietary changes can have a big impact on relieving the symptoms of depression.
Some of the most exciting highlights of the research from this past year:
- Researchers found that a Western diet (lots of junk food) actually shrinks the hippocampus, a brain structure involved in mood regulation (1)
- Data from the Women’s Health Initiative study found that a high-glycemic index diet (that is, lots of sugars and white flour products) increases the risk of depression (2)
- Cocoa and chocolate are rich in flavonoids that improve cardiovascular health – and now have been found also to improve cognitive function (thinking) (3)
- A whole foods-based diet, especially one following the Mediterranean pattern, is associated with improvement in depression and anxiety (4)
- A placebo-controlled study found that a specific probiotic supplement (Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium bifidum) significantly improved symptoms of depression, along with metabolic health markers like C-reactive protein (hsCRP). (5) This builds on previous evidence showing decreased moodiness with probiotic intake.
In addition to a whole foods-based diet and probiotics, don’t forget that exercise is one of the most powerful natural antidepressants there is. If additional mood support is needed, there are many powerful herbs and nutrients that can help – just be sure to use them with appropriate guidance, since some (like St. John’s wort) can have significant interactions with drugs.
- Jacka FN, Cherbuin N, Anstey KJ, Sachdev P, Butterworth P. Western diet is associated with a smaller hippocampus: a longitudinal investigation. BMC Med. 2015;13:215.
- Gangwisch JE, Hale L, Garcia L, et al. High glycemic index as a risk factor for depression: analyses from the Women’s Health Initiative. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;102:454-463.
- Mastroiacovo D, Kwik-Uribe C, Grassi D, et al. Cocoa flavanol consumption improves cognitive function, blood pressure control, and metabolic profile in elderly subjects: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study—a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;101:538-548.
- Agarwal U, Mishra S, Xu J, Levin S, Gonzales J, Barnard ND. A multicenter randomized controlled trial of a nutrition intervention program in a multiethnic adult population in the corporate setting reduces depression and anxiety and improves quality of life: the GEICO study. Am J Health Promot. 2015;29:245-254.
- Akkasheh G, Kashani-Poor Z, Tajabadi-Ebrahimi M, et al. Clinical and metabolic response to probiotic administration in patients with major depressive disorder: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Nutrition. 2015 Sept 28. [Epub ahead of print]