(NaturalNews) The Mediterranean diet may improve not just heart health but also mental health, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Universities of La Palma and Navarra in Spain, and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The Mediterranean diet is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, cereals, fish, and monounsaturated fatty acids like those found in olive oil. It is low in meat, and intake of alcohol and dairy products are kept to moderate levels. Prior research has shown a significant connection between the Mediterranean diet and a lower risk of heart disease and cancer.
Researchers had 10,094 university graduates fill out regular questionnaires that allowed researchers to measure their adherence to the Mediterranean diet over the course of four-and-a-half years. During this time period, 156 male participants developed depression, as did 324 female participants.
After adjusting for depression risk factors such as marital status, number of children, lifestyle habits, anxiety, competitiveness and other personality and lifestyle traits, the researchers found that those who followed the Mediterranean diet most closely had a 30 percent lower risk of developing depression than those who did not follow it.
Researcher Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez said that while further studies of longer duration and with more participants would be needed to confirm the findings, the diet "may exert a fair degree of protection against depression."
"Thirty percent is a large reduction in the risk and this could be very important considering the large burden of disease represented by depression," he said. "We know how important the Mediterranean diet is in reducing cardiovascular risk factors and the same inflammatory proteins are also raised in patients with depression."
Clinical psychologist Cecilia D'Felice noted that diet can play a significant role in mental health.
"What we do know is that a diet high in olive oil will enhance the amount of serotonin ... available to you," she said. "Most anti-depression drugs work to keep more serotonin available in the brain."
The overall diet is likely to provide benefits above and beyond any individual component, Martinez-Gonzalez said.