Nutritional supplements can’t prevent depression, but what about real food?
The MooDFOOD project has undertaken extensive research into the potential of nutrients, dietary patterns, weight loss and food related behaviours in preventing depression. As the largest randomized clinical trial to study the effects of nutritional strategies on the prevention of major depressive disorder, it’s worth paying attention to the findings. One conclusion is that daily intake of nutritional supplements cannot prevent depression – but another is real food can.
Over 1000 participants who were overweight or obese and were identified as being at elevated risk for depression, but who were not currently depressed, took part in the study. Participants were randomized to either take nutritional supplements containing folic acid, vitamin D, zinc, selenium or to a pill placebo, and half of participants also received a behavioural lifestyle intervention intended to change dietary behaviours and patterns. Over the space of a year the results from a daily intake of nutritional supplements was no better than the placebo in preventing the onset of a major depressive episode.
And while the behavioural therapy to encourage a healthy dietary behaviour and improve diet was not effective at preventing depression overall, there was some evidence that it prevented depressive episodes in those participants who attended a recommended number of sessions. This may suggest the food behavioural therapy only works if the participants get enough exposure and are able to sufficiently improve their diet and dietary behaviour.
So, while nutritional supplements don’t seem to help, they did conclude a healthy dietary pattern, typified by a Mediterranean style diet high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, pulses and olive oil, and low in red meat and full-fat dairy products, may reduce the risk of developing depression. And in the case of obese people, weight loss can lead to a reduction in depressive symptoms.
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