For the last 10 years there’s been very strong correlational data to suggest that your diet and your mental health are closely related. For example if your diet is poor then your risk of depression will be significantly increased. There was recently a clinical trial that demonstrated that a Mediterranean diet augmented with some red meat was very effective in treating clinical depression. This is a very exciting time for nutritional psychiatry to really have some data correlating diet and depression. With at least 150 million people suffering from depression worldwide, it’s really something that needs to be addressed and with a strategy of dietary changes and online depression counselling the future is looking bright.
In fact it’s been known that there was a correlation between inflammation and depression as far back as 1887. A man by the name of Juliius Wagner-Juaregg at the University of Vienna in Austria received the Nobel Prize in 1927 for this discovery and he was also the only psychiatrist to be awarded the Nobel Prize.
So what information do we have the correlate inflammation and depression. We know that people with depression have raised inflammatory markers such as the C reactive protein. We know that those suffering from inflammation are known to the also have higher rates of depression. This is not simply saying that those who suffer from inflammatory conditions are feeling depressed because they’re suffering from the inflammatory disease, but that perhaps depression is related to the inflammation itself. Most powerfully it has been shown that depression can be caused by inducing inflammation.
Can an anti-inflammatory diet actively reduce rates of depression? We didn’t really know this until recently, because recently there was a study of approximately 43,000 women aged between 50 and 77 without depression. These women were followed and their dietary habits were recorded for a period of 12 years. Those women whose diet would be considered more inflammatory had significantly higher rates of depression.
So this information then begs the question, what is an anti-inflammatory diet. A predominantly plant-based diet has been shown to cut C-Reactive protein by as much as 30%. What was interesting about this 30% reduction is that it occurrs in a very short time frame when the dietary habits are changed. Significant reductions in the C reactive protein were achieved in a period of two weeks.
Could the antioxidants in a plant-based diet be responsible for reducing the inflammation in the depressed people. A poor diet high in meat and processed foods is well known to be inflammatory and generate significant amounts of free radicals in the body. In response our body’s immune system has to begin cleaning up this oxidative stress as a result of a poor diet.
For me personally, a diet based on fresh fruit and vegetables, often eaten raw or juiced is obviously good for our bodies, so extrapolating that conclusion to the effect of diet on our mental health and brain function seems like a logical step.