Study Results: The Link Between Diet & DepressionMay 3, 2016 • Posted in:
Depression and Nutrition. The Role of Nutrients in Supporting Mental Health, and Contributing to and Combating Depression
This article includes significant excerpts from The Role of Nutrition in Mental Health: Depression, written by Jesse A Solomon, Ziv Zukier, and Mazen J. Hamadeh from the School of Kinesiology and Health Science, Faculty of Health, York University, Toronto, Ontario. (http://www.mindingourbodies.ca/about_the_project/literature_reviews/depression_and_nutrition)
Depression and Nutrition – A Link
Currently, depression is often treated with a combination of therapy and medication, the latter with an inherent risk of unwanted side effects. For this article, an online literature search to review published peer-reviewed articles investigating a connection between dietary habits and risk of depression, as well as nutritional interventions used to treat symptoms of depression, was conducted.
The literature suggests a link between dietary habits and the risk of depression. Studies have implicated a relatively low intake of fish, omega 3 fatty acids, and fruits and vegetables as risk factors for depression. In addition, relatively high amounts of refined sugar and processed foods have been shown to increase the risk of depression. Although promising, more nutrition-based intervention studies are required to firmly establish effective diet-based treatments for people diagnosed with depression.
Depression is a disorder that compromises an individual’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks due to feelings of sadness, leading to chronic symptoms affecting everyday functioning . Depression is an umbrella term that includes psychotic depression, postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder, and the most commonly diagnosed forms of depression: major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder. The major depressive disorder presents symptoms of decreased mood, increased sadness and anxiety, loss of appetite, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, and more .
Depression, Medication, and Nutrition
Depression is often treated with antidepressants and other prescription medication. This often leads to severe side effects and the termination of continued medication [2, 5]. Recently, nutritional status has been linked to depression, and several epidemiological studies have assessed its relationship with micro-and macro-nutrient consumption. Micronutrient deficiencies in folic acid [6, 7], thiamine , magnesium , and omega 3 fatty acids [2, 9] have been linked to the prevalence of depression. Some have attributed these deficiencies to an American  or Westernized diet  which is low in fiber, fruits and vegetables, and fish intake, and high in processed foods.
Depression and Diet Patterns
In a 2009 study , 3,486 adult men and women (age 33-55) were categorized as having either a “whole food” (rich in fish, fruits, and vegetables) or “processed food” (rich in processed meat, chocolates, sweet desserts, pies, condiments, fried food, refined cereals, and high-fat dairy products) dietary pattern.
After adjusting for covariates (among them gender, age, marital status, education, physical activity, smoking habits, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, use of antidepressant drugs, cognitive functioning and others), participants of the highest-matching ‘whole food’ dietary pattern were the least likely to be depressed compared to the lowest-matching based on the Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression Scale (CES-D scale). Dietary pattern factor scores revealed that participants in the highest-matching of the ‘processed food’ dietary pattern were at greater risk for depression compared to those in the lowest-matching group.
These results were based on respondents, some self-identified as having depression and some not. Therefore, a diet rich in processed foods may increase the risk of depression; or those already at greater risk of depression may tend to consume more processed foods. To address this issue, the authors removed those who self-identified as having significant depression.
The re-analyzed data revealed that those in the highest-matching group of the ‘whole food’ dietary pattern were least likely to be at risk for depression, compared to those in the lowest-matching group of the ‘whole food’ dietary pattern. In addition, those in the highest-matching group of the ‘processed food’ dietary pattern were found to be at greater risk of depression compared to the lowest-matching group of the ‘processed food’ dietary pattern.
Although the authors concluded that the results confirm that the lower the quality of the diet, the higher the risk of depression, cause and effect cannot be established because this was an epidemiological study. The role of each individual food item in the risk of depression was not assessed.
A 2008 study (11) involving elderly men and women, aged 65 y and older, found that “healthy” eaters, men who consumed higher amounts of fish and women who consumed higher amounts of fruits and vegetables, had better cognitive performance and self-related health in both sexes, as well as less depressive symptoms in women. In men, “healthy” eaters had significantly lower scores of depression (lower CES-D scores) compared to those identified as “pasta eaters”. In women, “healthy” eaters had significantly lower CES-D scores compared to the “biscuits and snacking” group. .
Moreover, the Sarlio-Lähteenkorva study  showed that 6,243 middle-aged men and women with poor mental health were less likely to eat fruits and berries; this finding was independent of socioeconomic status and health behaviors. The results from the two studies above possibly demonstrate a cyclical pattern of poor eating habits leading to depression and then depression exacerbating poor eating habits.
Other studies have found that higher servings of fish and Omega-3 fatty acids have also been associated with positive effects on depression [17, 18]. The Edwards Study et al  found that a small sample of ten men and women (depressed patients aged 29-49) who were diagnosed with a major depressive episode according to the DSM-IV criteria, consumed 27% less Omega-3 fatty acids in their diet compared to healthy controls, however, this difference was not statistically significant. In addition, depressed individuals had 29% less n-3 fatty acids in red blood cell (RBC) membranes compared to healthy controls.
An epidemiological study  of 3,204 Finnish men and women (age 25-64) revealed that mild to severe depressive symptoms were found to be more prevalent among women who consumed fish less than once per week, compared to women who consumed fish more than once per week (34.2 % vs. 27.0 %). A similar trend was found among men, however, the relationship was not as statistically significant (28.5 % vs. 25.9 %).
Depression and Refined Sugar
Although nutritional deficiencies have been associated with an increased risk of depression, an excess of macronutrients, particularly refined sugar, has also been linked to depression . A cross-national study  including 6 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Korea, United States, and New Zealand) established a strong, positive correlation between national sugar consumption and rates of depression.
Multiple epidemiological studies have demonstrated that a connection exists between the risk of depression and dietary habits. Studies have linked deficiencies in micronutrients (folic acid, thiamine, magnesium) and omega 3 fatty acids to an increased risk of depression.
Other studies have found associations attributing low intake of fish, fruits, and vegetables and high intake of refined sugar, desserts and processed meats to an elevated risk of depression. More clinical trials are needed to ascertain whether correcting nutrient deficiencies or minimizing the excessive intake of certain micronutrients or foods would reduce the risk and/or the symptoms of depression.
Proper nutrition may prove to be an affordable investment for people diagnosed with depression to mitigate their symptoms and improve overall health.
- National Institute of Mental Health. NIMH – Depression. Version current September 23 2009. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/complete-index.shtml (accessed February, 21 2010).
- Lakhan S, Vieira K. Nutritional therapies for mental disorders. Nutr J 2008;7:2.
- Statistics Canada. Canadian Community Health Survey – Mental Health and Well-being. Version current September 9 2004. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/bsolc/olc-cel/olc-cel?catno=82-617-XIE&lang=eng (accessed February 25, 2010).
- Public Health Agency of Canada. A Report on Mental Illnesses in Canada . Version current October 15 2002. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/miic-mmac/ (accessed March 1, 2010).
- Hillbrand M, Spitz RT, VandenBos GR. Investigating the role of lipids in mood, aggression, and schizophrenia. Psychiatr Serv 1997;48:875-6, 882.
- Kohatsu W. Nutrition and depression. Explore 2005;1:474-6.
- Coppen A, Bolander-Gouaille C. Treatment of depression: time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12. J Psychopharmacol 2005;19:59-65.
- Eby G, Eby K. Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment. Med Hypotheses 2006;67:362-70.
- Tanskanen A, Hibbeln JR, Tuomilehto J, et al. Fish consumption and depressive symptoms in the general population in Finland. Psychiatr Serv 2001;52:529-31.
- Akbaraly T, Brunner E, Ferrie J, Marmot M, Kivimaki M, Singh-Manoux A. Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age. Br J Psychiatry 2009;195:408-13.
- Samieri C, Jutand M, Fart C, Capuron L, Letenneur L, Barberger-Gateau P. Dietary patterns derived by hybrid clustering method in older people: association with cognition, mood, and self-rated health. J Am Diet Assoc 2008;108:1461-71.
- www.Counsellingresource.com. A Screening Test for Depression. Version current May 6 2010. http://counsellingresource.com/quizzes/cesd/index.html (accessed May 1, 2010).
- Sarlio-Lähteenkorva S, Lahelma E, Roos E. Mental health and food habits among employed women and men. Appetite 2004;42:151-6.
- Allgöwer A, Wardle J, Steptoe A. Depressive symptoms, social support, and personal health behaviors in young men and women. Health Psychol 2001;20:223-7.
- Huanga Y, Song W, Schemmela R, Hoerr S. What do college students eat? Food selection and meal pattern. Nutr Res 1994;14:1143-53.
- Haberman S, Luffey D. Weighing in college students’ diet and exercise behaviors. J Am Coll Health 1998;46:189-91.
- Edwards R, Peet M, Shay J, Horrobin D. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid levels in the diet and in red blood cell membranes of depressed patients. J Affect Disord 1998;48:149-55.
- Maes M, Christophe A, Delanghe J, Altamura C, Neels H, Meltzer H. Lowered omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in serum phospholipids and cholesteryl esters of depressed patients. Psychiatry Res 1999;85:275-91.
- Adams P, Lawson S, Sanigorski A, Sinclair A. Arachidonic acid to eicosapentaenoic acid ratio in blood correlates positively with clinical symptoms of depression. Lipids 1996;31:S157-61.
- Budowski P. Omega 3-fatty acids in health and disease. World Rev Nutr Diet 1988;57:214-74.
- Endres S. Messengers and mediators: interactions among lipids, eicosanoids, and cytokines. Am J Clin Nutr 1993;57:798S-800S.
- Andrasson A, Arborelius L, Erlanson-Albertsson C, Lekander M. A putative role for cytokines in the impaired appetite in depression. Brain Behav Immun 2007;21:147-52.
- Raison C, Capuron L, Miller A. Cytokines sing the blues: inflammation and the pathogenesis of depression. Trends Immunol 2006;27:24-31.
- Dantzer R. Cytokine-induced sickness behavior: mechanisms and implications. Ann N Y Acad Sci 2001;933:222-34.
- Westover A, Marangell L. A cross-national relationship between sugar consumption and major depression? Depress Anxiety 2002;16:118-20.
Trauma & Depression: The Other Side Of The Mountain
By: Hannah Smith • October 28, 2019
Part II of a Six-part Trauma Series. Trigger warning: This is a difficult topic. Some examples of trauma with depression will be eluded to without details in order to set a scene for clarity and relatability. _____________ Skyla sits and stares out the window of her small apartment. She watches...
Overcoming Depression Caused by Busyness
By: Dr. Gregory Jantz • August 28, 2014
In today’s hectic, action-packed society, we often pride ourselves on our productivity and busyness. We fill each day with work, technology, errands, and activities that leave little room for much else. However, over time it’s possible for your productive and busy days to become unhinged from their original intent. You...
Answer These Questions to Determine Your Current Stress Level
By: Dr. Gregory Jantz • April 20, 2018
If you try to live without balance, you will invariably retreat to older patterns of thinking. The tendency is always to default to previous, often unbalanced, behavior when the going gets rough, when feeling boxed in, or when the pressures of life become more than you feel you can bear. ...
Get Started Now
"*" indicates required fields
Whole Person Care
The whole person approach to treatment integrates all aspects of a person’s life:
- Emotional well-being
- Physical health
- Spiritual peace
- Relational happiness
- Intellectual growth
- Nutritional vitality