Evidence indicates that following a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts, and cereals, can bring many health benefits, including protection against cardiovascular and metabolic problems. Now, a study also presents a link between this diet and a lower risk of depression later in life.
Mediterranean diets feature meals that are high in vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruit, whole grains, with less fish, dairy, and poultry-based foods, and as little red meat as possible.
Moreover, people who follow Mediterranean-style diets use olive oil for cooking, which is a good source of monosaturated fat.
Anecdotally, this is a healthful, nutritious diet, and many studies seem to support this claim. In recent years, researchers have shown that Mediterranean diets can significantly reduce cardiovascular risk, may slow down bone loss in osteoporosis, promote anticancer mechanisms, and support brain health.
Some research has even found an association between Mediterranean-style diets and a reduced risk of depression.
Now, the findings of a new study — which its authors presented at this year's Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in San Francisco, CA — add support to these claims.
At the APA Annual Meeting, Dr. Konstantinos Argyropoulos and colleagues from the Hellenic Open University in Patra, Greece showed that people who adhere to a Mediterranean diet appear less likely to develop symptoms of depression later on in life.
A link that warrants further study
The research team worked with members of day-care centers for older people from the East Attica region of Greece. Of all the study participants, 64% had a moderate adherence to the Mediterranean diet, while 34% reported a high adherence.
Among the entire cohort, almost 25% of the individuals presented symptoms of depression, and more women than men experienced them.
The researchers found that participants who had a high adherence to a Mediterranean diet — specifically one that had a high vegetable content, but little poultry products, and low alcohol consumption — had a lower likelihood of developing depression or symptoms associated with depression.
"Our results support that depression in older adults is common and strongly associated with several risk factors," note the study authors. Nevertheless, they emphasize that those who followed the plant-rich diet seemed to experience a lower risk, saying that:
"Adherence to a Mediterranean diet may protect against the development of depressive symptoms in older age."
However, Dr. Argyropoulos and colleagues also caution that their study was observational and did not seek to prove a cause and effect relationship.
For this reason, they caution that the causality may lie either way: eating a healthful Mediterranean diet may lead to better mental health, but equally, depression could affect a person's ability to follow a nutritious diet and lead an overall healthful life.