PhotoDepression symptoms can flare up unannounced, and for consumers that struggle with their mental health, it can become debilitating and frustrating.

While previous research has been unable to pinpoint if diet can help mental well-being, a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Manchester found that following a healthy diet can help to reduce symptoms associated with depression.

“The overall evidence for the effects of diet on mood and mental well-being had up to now yet to be assessed,” said Dr. Joseph Firth. “But our recent meta-analysis has done just that; showing that adopting a healthier diet can boost people's’ mood. However, it has no clear effects on anxiety.”

Eat good, feel good

To see if diet can affect depression symptoms, the researchers analyzed all of the previous research done on diets and mental health. In all, they ended up evaluating data from over 45,000 participants from 16 different studies.

The overarching theme from the studies was that eating healthier in any way was associated with an improvement in depression symptoms. The researchers explored studies in which the participants either improved their nutrient intake, lost weight, or reduced their fat intake, and they all resulted in participants reporting fewer depressive symptoms.

“The similar effects from any type of dietary improvement suggests that highly-specific or specialized diets are unnecessary for the average individual,” said Dr. Firth. “Instead, just making simple changes is equally beneficial for mental health.”

In analyzing the studies, the researchers also found that a change in diet worked more often for women than for men -- for both depression and anxiety symptoms -- though they are unsure as to why. The group says more research is needed to understand this trend.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this study is that a lifestyle change can impact consumers’ mental health for the better.

“Our data add to the growing evidence to support lifestyle intervention as an important approach to tackle low mood and depression,” said Dr. Brendon Stubbs. “Specifically, our results within this study found that when dietary interventions were combined with exercise, a greater improvement in depressive symptoms was experienced by people. Taken together, our data really highlight the central role of eating a healthier diet and taking regular exercise to act as a viable treatment to help people with low mood.”

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