College student eating take-out food near laptop on floor
Specific dietary changes have been shown to reduce depression symptoms.

The latest evidence in diet and mental health

Recent studies show that changing dietary behaviour and improving diet quality can also improve mental health outcomes.

A recent review, examined the impact of dietary change on depression and anxiety symptoms. The review assessed 16 randomised controlled trials with over 45,800 participants.

The review demonstrated that dietary interventions significantly reduced symptoms of depression.

Interestingly, interventions that were conducted in females were more successful than interventions conducted in males.

Additionally, interventions designed and led by a nutritional professional (eg a dietitian or nutritionist) had a greater impact on depressive symptoms.

Nutritional supplements and mental health

Another large review that included 10,951 participants investigated how the addition of nutritional supplements – omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other compounds – impacted individuals with common and severe mental disorders.

This study showed that the majority of the investigated nutritional supplements had no effect on mental health outcomes.

However, some supplements were shown to be beneficial as an adjunctive treatment as we discovered in Step 2.12. For example, omega-3 supplements can improve symptoms of depression, whilst supplementation with amino acid N-acetylcysteine was beneficial for individuals with mood disorders and schizophrenia.

The same review also suggested that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may help protect cognitive functioning in young people with schizophrenia.

The HELFIMED trial

Results from the HELFIMED trial supported evidence from the SMILES trial for the treatment of depression with diet.

This trial assessed a group-based dietary intervention supplemented with omega-3. It conducted cooking workshops and provided the supplements for 152 adults with self-reported depression. The recommended dietary changes were based on a Mediterranean-style diet.

Mental health outcomes of the dietary group were compared to social support group. After 3 months of intervention, the dietary group showed significant reductions in depression and improved mental health in comparison to the social group. Notably, these improvements were sustained 6 months from the start of the intervention.

Your task

What is your understanding of a Mediterranean-type diet?

Share what you know of a Mediterranean-type diet in the comments, including the types of food that it might feature.

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This article is from the free online course:

Food and Mood: Improving Mental Health Through Diet and Nutrition

Deakin University