A new study has provided further evidence that a healthful diet is good for the mind as well as the body, after finding that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may help to lower the risk of depression.

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Eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains could help to lower the risk of depression, say researchers.

Researchers have found that people with closer adherence to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) were less likely to have depression over 6.5 years than people with lower adherence to the diet.

Study co-author Dr. Laurel Cherian, of the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL, and colleagues are due to present their findings at the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting next month, which will be held in Los Angeles, CA.

It is estimated that around 16.2 million adults in the United States — or approximately 6.7 percent of the country’s adult population — had at least one major depressive episode in 2016, making it one of the most common mental health conditions.

People with depression may experience persistent feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or irritability, and they may lose interest in once pleasurable activities, have difficulty sleeping, and even have suicidal thoughts.

A family history of depression, traumatic or stressful experiences, and physical illness are among the risk factors for depression. But a new study suggests that we may be able to lower our risk of the condition simply by eating better.

The study included 964 adults who were an average age of 81, and they were followed for an average of 6.5 years.

At study baseline, all subjects were asked to complete dietary questionnaires. The researchers assessed these to establish adherence to various diets, including the Western diet, the Mediterranean diet, and the DASH diet.

The DASH diet is an eating plan that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains but low in foods that are high in sugar and saturated fats. It was created by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute as a way to lower blood pressure.

The study participants were also assessed for symptoms of depression during the follow-up period.

Compared with subjects who had the lowest adherence to the DASH diet, those who had the highest adherence were found to be 11 percent less likely to develop depression.

But a Western diet was found to have the opposite effect, and the closer the subjects’ adherence to this diet — which is high in saturated fats and low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — the greater their risk of developing depression.

Dr. Cherian notes that this study only shows an association between the DASH diet and lower depression risk, so it is unable to prove cause and effect.

That said, she and her colleagues say that further research is warranted to determine whether this eating plan could help to prevent one of the most common mental health disorders in the U.S.

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.”

Dr. Laurel Cherian