I may not have taken down my holiday decorations yet, but as it’s the end of January and I’ve already seen St. Patrick’s Day decorations in stores, I guess it’s time to admit that 2017 is well and truly here. How have you started your new year?
If you are like a lot of people, I imagine you may have made a resolution to get in better shape, eat healthier, or spend more time with friends and less in front of the TV. I’m pretty sure I’ve made all those resolutions at least once in the last five years, and it was generally with an eye towards improving my physical health. But did you know that diet, exercise, and socialization all affect your mental health too?
In fact, the December issue of Clinical Psychological Science focused on the link between diet and mental health. Articles reported links between essential fatty acids and ADHD, vitamin supplements and insomnia, and an amino acid treatment for OCD, among others. I want to share one article in particular, however, that examined the relationship between the Mediterranean lifestyle (not just diet) and risk for depression.
The short story is this: the Mediterranean lifestyle reduces your risk for depression by up to 50%. I’ll go into more depth about what that means, but I wanted to share it because the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle are accessible to everyone—even if you don’t live in coastal Spain where this study took place.
Okay, so what is the Mediterranean lifestyle anyway? You may have heard of the Mediterranean diet before as it’s been linked to reduced risk of cardio-vascular disease, cancer, and even dementia. Essentially, the way the researchers measured it was to score participants’ reported consumption of the following food groups: legumes, cereals (including bread and potatoes), fruit, vegetables, meat and meat products, milk and dairy products, fish, and trans fats. Legumes, cereals, fruits, vegetables, fish, and moderate alcohol consumption were all scored positively, while consumption of meat, dairy products, and trans fats lowered participants’ scores. Those with higher scores were considered to more closely follow the Mediterranean diet.
Now the unique aspect of this study is that they considered not only the Mediterranean diet, but also other aspects of the Mediterranean lifestyle, such as physical and social activity. More physical and social activity was considered to be more in line with the Mediterranean lifestyle, as outlined by the Mediterranean Diet Foundation.
As I mentioned, the researchers found that participants who most closely (that is, scored in the top 1/3 of responders) followed the Mediterranean lifestyle showed a 50% reduction in their risk of depression compared with participants who least closely (those who scored in the bottom 1/3) followed the Mediterranean lifestyle. Even comparing the middle 1/3 found a 40% reduction of risk compared to the bottom 1/3, and that’s after accounting for a range of other factors (specifically age, sex, Body Mass Index, smoking, use of vitamins, total energy intake, presence of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure).
Pretty cool, right? I have to say, it’s a little embarrassing that I had never considered the effects of diet on mental health before, given the amount I cook and my particular day job. That said, I hope the results of this study give you a little late-January inspiration to stick with your resolutions—not just for your body, but for your mind.