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Study: Mediterranean diet can help young men beat depression

Around a third of depressed men fail to respond to standard treatments and researchers hope they will help people who may not respond well to existing medicine.

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Selective focus. Warm salad with eggplant and spinach in a skillet. Healthy food. Vegan lunch.
(Chatham172 via Shutterstock)

By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

A Mediterranean diet can help young men beat depression, according to a new study.

Doctors should look to send unhappy youngsters to a nutritionist or dietitian as part of their patient’s treatment program, scientists said.

The clinical trial is the first to assess the impact of a Mediterranean diet - which consists of fresh fruit and veggies, fish and grains - on young men’s mental health.

Millions of young British men suffer from the blues and suicide is the most common cause of death in young men, according to Office for National Statistics figures.

For the study involving 72 men aged 18 to 25, a group of them were fed the healthy nutritious diet over 12 weeks while another group took part in befriending therapy.

They were assessed at the beginning of the trial and then again after six and 12 weeks.

The men who munched on Mediterranean meals were found to have a “significantly” higher quality of life score than the group who undertook befriending sessions.

Their BDI-II score, which is a widely used measure of depressive symptoms, also got better more quickly.

The researchers say the diet may help people suffering with poor mental health by helping their gut release serotonin.

The chemical is made by gut microbes but they need to be fed fiber, found in fruit and vegetables, if they are to work well.

Lead researcher Jessica Bayes from the University of Technology Sydney said: “These results highlight the important role of nutrition for the treatment of depression and should inform advice given by clinicians to this specific demographic population.

“The primary focus was on increasing diet quality with fresh wholefoods while reducing the intake of ‘fast’ foods, sugar and processed red meat.

“There are lots of reasons why scientifically we think food affects mood.

“For example, around 90 percent of serotonin, a chemical that helps us feel happy, is made in our gut by our gut microbes.

“There is emerging evidence that these microbes can communicate to the brain via the vagus nerve, in what is called the gut-brain axis.

“To have beneficial microbes, we need to feed them fiber, which is found in legumes, fruits and vegetables.”

Around a third of depressed men fail to respond to standard treatments and researchers hope they will help people who may not respond well to existing medicine.

The men were willing to take on the diet and wanted to carry on with it once the program had ended.

Bayes added: “We were surprised by how willing the young men were to take on a new diet.

“Those assigned to the Mediterranean diet were able to significantly change their original diets, under the guidance of a nutritionist, over a short time frame.

“It suggests that medical doctors and psychologists should consider referring depressed young men to a nutritionist or dietitian as an important component of treating clinical depression.

“Nearly all our participants stayed with the program, and many were keen to continue the diet once the study ended, which shows how effective, tolerable and worthwhile they found the intervention.”

The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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