Office Hours: Monday - Thursday 9:00 am - 4:00 pm

Diet And Depression

We know that eating a Mediterranean diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, and new evidence published this month suggests that it also may protect against depression. Researchers from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria studied more than 15,000 people who were following the recommendations of a Mediterranean-like diet for more than 8 years. None of the participants were depressed when they joined the study, and they were asked to score their adherence to the diets by rating meats and sweets negatively and nuts, fruits and vegetables positively. The researchers reported that the higher the score, the greater the adherence to a healthy diet. Over 8.5 years, 1,550 of the participants reported that they had been diagnosed with depression or had used antidepressant drugs. The researchers concluded that the greatest reduction in the risk of depression was linked to a diet called the “Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010”, which is similar to the Mediterranean Diet in that in emphasizes foods providing omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and a moderate alcohol intake. They wrote that even a moderate adherence to the diets was associated with a reduced risk of depression and that there was no additional benefit to high or very high adherence. The researchers said further studies are needed to identify what nutrients are protective, and which might contribute to depression.

My take: This is an interesting study, which supports the view that an anti-inflammatory diet may counter whole body inflammation, a possible contributor to psychological disorders, especially depression. While I don't think that inflammation is the only factor leading to depression, much of the reported rise in the rates of depression may be due to inflammation fostered by increased consumption of highly processed foods, including quick-digesting carbohydrate foods.  An anti-inflammatory diet, which is modeled on the Mediterranean diet with Asian influences, promotes foods that can help control inflammation, as well as the micronutrients and phytonutrients to protect your body (and mind) from inflammation's damaging effects. 

Mediterranean Diet for Brain Health

We know that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, and some research suggests that it lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well. Following this dietary strategy may also help keep your brain younger as you age. A recent study conducted by Columbia University in New York City shows that seniors who had no problems with thinking or memory and adhered to the Mediterranean diet were more likely to have larger total brain volume as well as more gray and white matter than those who didn’t always eat the Mediterranean way. The researchers also found that the more fish and less meat their study participants reported eating the more total gray matter their brain scans displayed. The researchers first looked at survey responses about eating habits from 674 seniors and then viewed MRI scans of their brains. All told, the investigators concluded that the difference in brain volume associated with a Mediterranean diet was equivalent to five years of aging – meaning that on the scans the brains of the seniors in the study who followed the Mediterranean diet looked five years younger than the brains of those who didn’t adhere to the diet. While the study didn’t prove cause and effect, it did show an association between the diet and larger brain volume.

My take: I've long been a proponent of the Mediterranean diet, a composite of the traditional cuisines of Spain, southern France, Italy, Greece, Crete and parts of the Middle East. This new study isn’t the first to associate the Mediterranean diet with better brain health. Earlier this year a study from Spain found that adding olive oil and nuts to a Mediterranean diet slowed declines in cognitive function among 447 healthy seniors who were participating in a larger, ongoing study of the Mediterranean diet. In addition, earlier observational studies have demonstrated better cognitive function and a lower-than-normal risk of dementia among people who follow the Mediterranean diet.


Choosing High-Quality Olive Oil (Video)

Olive oil comes in a variety of forms, but Dr. Weil explains what makes a good-quality olive oil. The best olive oil is extra virgin, organic and cold pressed. It is important to protect olive oil because the compounds (polyphenols) in the oil break down when exposed to light and air, decreasing the health benefits it provides.

Want new videos from Dr. Weil? Subscribe to his YouTube channel for weekly videos!