Clinical depression affects one in 10 U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some estimates rate a woman’s lifetime risk at one in five. Fortunately, recent research shows that you can avoid this mood disorder with healthy food choices.
Dietary Coaching Is as Effective as Talk Therapy
Sadness, fatigue and disinterest in activities aging patients once enjoyed can lead to isolation and the inability to care for themselves. University of Pittsburgh and University of Maryland researchers wanted to find ways to prevent this disease in vulnerable older adults.
“Previous studies we and others have done indicate about 25 percent of people in later life who are mildly depressed become seriously depressed in the next one to two years,” said senior author Charles F. Reynolds III, M.D., University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine endowed professor of geriatric psychiatry. But avoiding episodes of major depression can promote happiness and community engagement.
The study team compared the results of two patient groups to determine which intervention could prevent elderly adults with mild depression symptoms from developing the full-blown disease. Some people participated in a dietary coaching program. The control group received problem-solving therapy for primary care (PST-PC). During this seven-step approach, non-mental-health professionals helped patients resolve difficulties, which improved coping skills and confidence.
Both methods achieved similar reductions in depressive symptoms and were equally successful among white and black participants. About 9 percent of people in each group experienced an episode of major depression during the two-year study period. Researchers concluded that meeting with a dietary coach was as effective as talk therapy to prevent major depression among older Caucasian and African-American adults with mild symptoms. Managing their own life problems affected subjects’ well-being positively while protecting against major depression.
Inflammatory Diet Increases Depression Risk
Your immune system responds to various stresses by creating inflammation. While some swelling helps your body fight disease, it also can be dangerous. Research has linked chronic, low-level inflammation to a wide variety of health problems including depression, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and more.
Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health researchers analyzed data from the highly respected ongoing Nurses’ Health Study. For 12 years, they tracked the diet habits and health outcomes of 43,685 women aged 50 to 77 who didn’t have depression at the start of the study period. Investigators excluded 10,340 women with severe depressive symptoms.
Women who consumed more inflammatory than non-inflammatory foods daily were 29 to 41 percent more likely to develop depression than those who ate healthier diets. Blood tests revealed that three biomarkers of inflammation were significantly higher for these participants. The research team documented 2594 cases of depression using a strict definition (depression diagnosis and antidepressant use) and 6446 with a broader definition (depression diagnosis and/or antidepressant use).
This new study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity isn’t the first to link specific diet choices to inflammation and depression, but it’s one of the most complete. According to study lead author Michel Lucas, PhD, a visiting scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition, this research is valuable because it analyzed real people’s overall eating habits rather than drawing conclusions from chemicals in individual foods.
“These results converge with parallel findings on the relation between diet and physical health. From a public health perspective, it is reassuring that what is good for the body is also good for the mind,” said senior author Alberto Ascherio, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and nutrition.
Limit Intake of Foods That Trigger Inflammation
According to the Harvard study, these foods are most likely to produce inflammation, which can increase your risk of depression.
Refined grains: This category includes all kinds of foods that contain white flour: white bread, English muffins, bagels, rolls, muffins, biscuits, crackers and chips; white rice and pasta; and pancakes and waffles. Nutritionists recommend whole grains as healthier options.
Margarine: Brands that contain transfats promote inflammation among other serious problems.
Red meat: Restrict this major source of omega-6 fats. Many experts recommend leaner cuts including pastured products as healthier alternatives.
All soft drinks: Research links both sugar-sweetened and diet soft drinks to inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Enjoy More Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Instead of seeking comfort from junk food on a bad day, stick to your long-term healthy diet. It can help you feel better and decrease your risk of developing clinical depression. The Harvard study found that these anti-inflammatory foods are best for warding off depression.
Olive oil: Unlike other fats, the phytonutrients in this healthy oil don’t cause inflammation.
Leafy green vegetables: Eat leafy greens including lettuce and spinach.
Yellow vegetables: Veggies including carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash fall into the yellow category.
Coffee: The Harvard study didn’t distinguish caffeinated from decaf coffee, but previous research suggests that only coffee with caffeine provides anti-inflammatory benefits.
Wine: When you drink wine in moderation, its positive effects are likely to come from alcohol and other compounds.
Combine Diet With Medication
If you suffer from depression, traditional treatments including prescription medications can relieve your symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant like Desvenlafaxine. This selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) restores your brain chemical balance to alleviate depression. Combining medication with dietary adjustments can lift your mood so you can enjoy a full, healthy life.