New research suggests that maintaining a Mediterranean style diet may help protect against symptoms of depression in later life. The study presented at the American Psychiatric Association’s 2019 Annual Meeting showed that while the Mediterranean diet has previously been associated with longer life, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and cancer, it may also hold protective effects against cognitive decline in older individuals.
In a cross-sectional study, researchers examined the occurrence of late-life depression in an urban area in Athens, Greece. They also looked at the connections with adherence to a Mediterranean-based diet and other risk factors.
Konstantinos Argyropoulos from Hellenic Open University in Greece led the study, which used the Geriatric Depression Scale to screen the elderly participants for depression. Also used was the Athens Insomnia Scale to determine the presence of sleep disturbances, and the MedDietScore to calculate adherence to a Mediterranean diet.
There was a total of 154 older adults who participated in the study, with an average age of 71 years. As measured by the screening techniques, 116 participants were negative for any depressive symptoms, 33 showed moderate depressive symptoms, and five experienced severe depression. The screening also showed 108 participants had no sleep problems and 46 had insomnia. Most participants moderately followed the Mediterranean diet.
The results of the study showed that for every additional unit increase in the consumption of vegetables, the risk of developing depression dropped by 20 percent. It also showed that for each unit reduction in poultry consumption, the likelihood of depression dropped by 36.1 percent and for each unit reduction of alcohol, the chance of developing depression dropped by 28 percent.
Decreased Risk of Developing Symptoms
The conclusion of the study by Argyropolous and colleagues found that a diet higher in vegetables and lower in alcohol and poultry was associated with a decreased risk of developing depressive symptoms later in life. The authors concluded, “Our results support that depression in older adults is common and strongly associated with several risk factors. Adherence to a Mediterranean diet may protect against the development of depressive symptoms in older age.”
Dr. Argyropoulos spoke about the findings of the study, saying, “Although we should be cautious about the study findings, they represent another potential reason to adopt a Mediterranean diet. Following a healthy lifestyle, which includes not only a Mediterranean-style diet, but also plenty of physical activity and drinking alcohol only in moderation, is linked to a reduction in depression.”
A Mediterranean-style diet generally consists of more vegetables and fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. It limits red meats and sweets, suggests consuming fish and poultry in moderation, and places an emphasis on using olive oil. There is also a lifestyle aspect of the diet that includes getting plenty of exercise and enjoying meals with friends and family.