Eating a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruit and whole grains may lead to a reduced risk of depression, according to a study by researchers at Rush University Medical Center. Study author Dr. Laurel Cherian will present a preliminary study abstract with these conclusions during the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in April.
Study participants who closely adhered to a diet similar to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet were less likely to develop depression than people who did not closely follow the diet. The DASH diet recommends fruits and vegetables and fat-free or low-fat dairy products and limits foods that are high in saturated fats and sugar.
“Depression is common in older adults and more frequent in people with memory problems, vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or people who have had a stroke,” said Cherian, a vascular neurologist and assistant professor in Rush’s Department of Neurological Sciences. “There is evidence linking healthy lifestyle changes to lower rates of depression and this study sought to examine the role that diet plays in preventing depression.”
The National Institutes of Aging-funded study evaluated a total of 964 participants with an average age of 81 annually for approximately six-and-a-half years. The study enlisted volunteers already participating in the ongoing Rush Memory and Aging Project, which began in 1997 among residents of Chicago-area retirement communities and senior public housing complexes.
Each participant was monitored for symptoms of depression and filled out questionnaires about how often they ate various foods. The researchers examined how closely the participants’ reported diets adhered diets such as the DASH diet, Mediterranean diet and the traditional Western diet, which is high in saturated fats and red meats and low in fruits and vegetables.
The researchers categorized participants in three groups based on how closely they adhered to these diets. Those who were in the two groups that followed the DASH diet more closely were 11 percent less likely to develop depression than people in the group that did not follow the diet closely. Conversely, the researchers found that the more closely people followed a Western diet, the more likely they were to develop depression.
Cherian noted that the study does not prove that the DASH diet leads to a reduced risk of depression; it only shows an association.
“Future studies are now needed to confirm these results and to determine the best nutritional components of the DASH diet to prevent depression later in life and to best help people keep their brains healthy,” said Cherian.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Aging (grant numbers R01AG054476 and R01AG17917).
The American Academy of Neurology’s 70th annual meeting will be held in Los Angeles from April 21 to 27, 2018.