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February 27, 2018
by Tracey Block

A healthy diet may promote mental health

February 27, 2018 17:17 by Tracey Block  [About the Author]

It’s no surprise that healthy eating equates to a healthy body. But based preliminary findings, a new study shows consuming fruits, vegetables and whole grains is also good for one’s mental health. More specifically, it may help reduce depression over time.

In her article today for Medical News Today, writer Honor Whiteman explained researchers recently found “that people with closer adherence to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) [diet] were less likely to [develop depression] over 6.5 years than people with lower adherence to the diet.”

The study’s co-author Laurel Cherian, M.D., of Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center plans to present these findings, along with her colleagues, next month at one of the annual meetings of the American Academy of Neurology.

“It is estimated that around 16.2 million adults in the United States--approximately 6.7 percent of the country's adult population--had at least one major depressive episode in 2016,” Whiteman wrote, “making it one of the most common mental health conditions.” She cited other risk factors for depression as family history, stress or traumatic experiences, and physical illness.

Created by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the DASH diet is an eating plan “high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains but low in foods that are high in sugar and saturated fats,” she explained.

Writer Janice Wood, in her article yesterday for, quoted the study’s co-author, Dr. Laurel Cherian: “Depression is common in older adults and more frequent in people with memory problems, vascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or people who have had a stroke,” she said.

“Making a lifestyle change, such as changing your diet, is often preferred over taking medications so we wanted to see if diet could be an effective way to reduce the risk of depression.”

Wood explained that 964 individuals “with an average age of 81” participated in Cherian’s study. They took part in annual evaluations for approximately 6.5 years.

“They were monitored for symptoms of depression, such as being bothered by things that usually didn’t affect them and feeling hopeless about the future,” Wood continued. “They also filled out questionnaires about how often they ate various foods, and the researchers looked at how closely the participants’ diets followed diets such as the DASH diet, Mediterranean diet and the traditional Western diet.”

Based on which diet participants most closely followed, they were divided into three groups. “The study found that people in the two groups that followed the DASH diet most closely were less likely to develop depression than people in the group that did not follow the diet closely,” Wood wrote.

After the six and a half years of follow-up, test results indicated “the odds of becoming depressed over time was 11 percent lower among the top group of DASH adherers versus the lowest group.”

By contrast, participants who adhered more closely to a Western-style diet—one containing high amounts of saturated fats and red meats, and low amounts of vegetables and fruits—were more likely to show signs of developing depression over the same period of time.

“According to Cherian,” Wood added, “the study does not prove that the DASH diet leads to a reduced risk of depression, it only shows an association.”

Cherian concluded that “future studies are now needed to confirm these results and to determine the best nutritional components of the DASH diet to prevent depression later in life and to best help people keep their brains healthy.”

PsychCentral’s Associate Editor Therese J. Borchard agrees that while healthy eating may be inherent to improved mental health, medication should not be taken off the list. In her article on the subject, she referred to author Stephen Ilardi’s 2009 book, “The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs”.

According to Borchard, Ilardi blamed the North American “modern lifestyle” for depression rates that are “roughly ten times higher today than . . . just two generations ago”. Borchard explained that although she “wholeheartedly” supported the six steps Ilardi offered to beat depression, “I am uncomfortable with his dismissal of medication.”

Borchard admitted to trying all six of Ilardi’s steps in her own mental health recovery program, but “I didn’t get well until I found the right medication combination–which included two antidepressants in addition to a mood stabilizer–to treat my bipolar disorder,” she wrote.

Nevertheless, wrote Borchard, Ilardi’s six steps are worthy of praise for their importance in one’s overall mental and physical well-being. Like Cherian’s study incorporating the DASH diet, reducing depression is based on each individual’s response to lifestyle changes and medication and may require ongoing modification. And the importance of seeking the professional advice of physicians and therapists cannot be overlooked.

Borchard listed Ilardi’s six recommendations “because I do think they are crucial to a recovery program from depression,”: Omega-3 fatty acids, engaged activity, physical exercise, sunlight exposure, social support, and sleep.



Borchard, T.J., (Retrieved February 25, 2018). 6 Steps for Beating Depression.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (Retrieved February 26, 2018). DASH Eating Plan.

Whiteman, H., (February 26, 2018). Medical News Today. The diet that could reduce the risk of depression.

Wood, J., (February 25, 2018). Healthy Diet Linked to Reduced Risk of Depression.



About the Author

Tracey Block
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