While research into possible links between diet and the risk of depression is still rather lacking, some preliminary data has shown that eating patterns typically classified as ‘healthy’ may have a significant impact on people suffering from conditions characterised by low affect.
As a new contribution to the growing body of evidence for dietary interventions to treat certain mental disorders, Professor Wendy Oddy of the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania, and colleagues had conducted the first study on the relationship between diet, body mass index (BMI), inflammatory markers, and mental health in adolescents.
The study relied on the longitudinal Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study, which gathered data on the food and nutrient intake of approximately 1,600 participants at the age of 14, and more than 1,000 at 17 years, and cross-referenced it with a mental health questionnaire, and clinical data on BMI and inflammation.
The Raine Study is a highly successful multi-generational research project which started in 1989 and has since been implicated in numerous medical discoveries and refinements of health policy and practice.
According to Oddy, participants following a ‘healthy’ diet based around vegetables, whole grains, fruit, and fish were found less likely to be overweight and depressed, while those who ate the ‘standard American diet’ comprised of high amounts of meat, refined carbohydrates, and fast food were at a significantly higher risk of low mood.
Whatever the exact biological mechanism, the research team hypothesised it to likely be related to overall inflammation caused, in this case, by excessive amounts of body fat.
Professor Oddy claims the study had found many complicated links between brain health and inflammation. “Scientific work on the relationship between mental health problems and inflammation is still in its infancy, but this study makes an important contribution to mapping how what you eat impacts on these relationships”.
The research team behind the study is currently seeking more fine-grained insights into the links between diet and depression by focusing on specific food components and nutrients.