Studies Suggest That a Mediterranean Diet
Is Associated With Reduced Risk of Depression
People who regularly follow the Mediterranean diet, rich in vegetables,
fruits, nuts, whole grains and fish, appear less likely to develop depression,
according to a report in the October issue of Archives of General
Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
The lifetime prevalence of mental disorders has been found to be
lower in Mediterranean than Northern European countries, according to
background information in the article. One logical explanation is that the
diet commonly followed in the region may be protective against depression.
Previous research has suggested that the monounsaturated fatty acids in
olive oil which is used abundantly in the Mediterranean diet, may be
associated with a lower risk of severe depressive symptoms.
Researchers from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and
Clinic of the University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, studied 10,094
healthy participants who completed an initial questionnaire between
1999 and 2005. Participants reported their dietary intake on a food
frequency questionnaire, and the researchers calculated their adherence
to the Mediterranean diet based on nine key components (high ratio of
monounsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acids; moderate intake
of alcohol and dairy products; low intake of meat; and high intake of
legumes, fruit and nuts, cereals, vegetables and fish).
After a midpoint (median) of 4.4 years of follow-up, 480 new cases
of depression were identified, including 156 in men and 324 in women.
Individuals who followed the Mediterranean diet most closely had a greater
than 30 percent reduction in the risk of depression than whose who had the
lowest Mediterranean diet scores.
“The specific mechanisms by which a better adherence to the Mediterranean
dietary pattern could help to prevent the occurrence of depression are not well
known,” the authors said. Components of the diet may improve blood vessel
function, fight inflammation, reduce risk for heart disease and repair oxygen-
related cell damage, all of which may decrease the chances of developing
“However, the role of the overall dietary pattern may be more important than
the effect of single components. It is plausible that the synergistic combination
of a sufficient provision of omega-three fatty acids together with other natural
unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants from olive oil and nuts, flavonoids and
other phytochemicals from fruit and other plant foods and large amounts of
natural folates and other B vitamins in the overall Mediterranean dietary pattern
may exert a fair degree of protection against depression,” the authors concluded.