With the new year just underway, many consumers are focusing on eating healthy. According to a new study conducted by the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), a good place for women to start is by incorporating more fiber into their diets.
“This study highlights an important link between dietary fiber intake and depression, but the direction of the association is unclear in this observational study, such that women with better mental health may have had a healthier diet and consumed more fiber, or a higher dietary fiber intake may have contributed to improved brain health by modulating the gut microbiome or some combination,” said researcher Dr. Stephanie Faubion.
“Nonetheless, it has never been more true that ‘you are what you eat,’ given that what we eat has a profound effect on the gut microbiome which appears to play a key role in health and disease.”
The link between diet and mental health
To understand how dietary fiber intake can affect depression risk, the researchers had over 5,800 women report on their diets over the course of several 24-hour windows. They also responded to questionnaires that gauged their risk for depression.
The study revealed that dietary fiber played a large role in depression risk for premenopausal women, but not for postmenopausal women. The researchers found that the risk of depression was lowest in the premenopausal women who consumed the most dietary fiber. However, regardless of their dietary fiber intake, that association didn’t exist with postmenopausal women.
The researchers explained that the change in hormone levels women experience between premenopause and postmenopause could explain the difference in diet and depression risk. Estrogen is responsible for changing the microorganisms in the gut, and the loss of the reproductive hormone during menopause can ultimately affect how the brain and the body process food.
Ultimately, dietary fiber doesn’t increase the risk for depression in postmenopausal women, but they aren’t experiencing the same benefits from foods high in fiber the same way that premenopausal women are. For women looking to incorporate foods higher in dietary fiber into their diets, the researchers recommend eating more fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, and whole grains.
The researchers hope that these findings offer consumers a different approach to targeting depression because a change in diet can greatly affect mental health outcomes.