Diets rich in fruits and vegetables associated with lower depression risk

People who eat vegetables, fruit and whole grains may have lower rates of depression over time, according to a preliminary study that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 70th Annual Meeting.

Research found that people whose diets adhered more closely to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet were less likely to develop depression than people who did not. DASH diet consists of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low fat dairy products. This diet limits intake of foods that contain sugar and saturated fats. Previous research have shown health benefits such as lowering high blood pressure and bad cholesterol (LDL), along with lowering body weight.

“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,” said study author Laurel Cherian, MD, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “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.”

For the study, 964 participants with an average age of 81 were evaluated yearly for an average of six-and-a-half years. They were monitored for symptoms of depression and 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 Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, Mediterranean diet and the traditional Western diet.

Participants were divided into three groups based on how closely they adhered to the diets. People in the two groups that followed the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet most closely were less likely to develop depression than people in the group that did not follow the diet closely.  On the other hand, the more closely people followed a Western diet, a diet that is high in saturated fats and red meats and low in fruits and vegetables the more likely they were to develop depression.

Cherian noted that the study does not prove that the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet leads to a reduced risk of depression; it only shows an association.

“Future studies are now needed to confirm these results and to determine the best nutritional components of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet to prevent depression later in life and to best help people keep their brains healthy,” said Cherian.

Adapted from press release by the American Academy of Neurology.