The Mediterranean diet can provide significant help to those suffering from severe depression, Australian researchers have discovered.
Mediterranean diet has long been known to have significant physical health benefits. Now researchers from Melbourne's Deakin University have discovered that it can also help those suffering mental health issues.
The team from Deakin put dozens of patients with major depressive disorders on a Mediterranean-style diet rich in protein, legumes, fresh fruit and vegetables, olive oil and nuts.
After 12 weeks of health eating, researchers said that one third of the participants reported a significant improvement in their mood and symptoms.
Felice Jacka, director of Deakin University's Food and Mood Center, said the Mediterranean diet had previously been credited with improving cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of diabetes and increasing longevity.
"We already know that diet has a very potent impact on the biological aspects of our body that affect depression risks," Jacka told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Tuesday.
"The immune system, brain plasticity, and gut microbiota seem to be central not just to our physical health, but also our mental health.
"And diet, of course, is the main factor that affects the gut microbiota."
Jacka randomly selected the participants to embrace the Mediterranean diet and reduce their intake of sweets, refined cereals, fried foods and sugary drinks.
Another group of participants received social support with only eight percent of those in the social support group showing improvements in their symptoms.
Sarah Keeble, a participant in the diet-switch, described the program as life changing.
"I felt clearer in my mind. I felt balanced. I felt happier. I actually had a lot more energy. I felt I could really kick this in the butt," she said.
"It's not going to cure depression, but you can certainly handle it very well.
Keeble said she had continued the diet after finishing the program and is now doing a diploma in health science.
"I got so motivated because I felt so much better, better than I had in so long," Keeble told the ABC.
"I'd like to help people in this situation where they think there's no hope."
Mediterranean diet may lower heart attacks, strokes risk
A "Mediterranean" diet, high in fruit, vegetables, fish and unrefined foods, is likely to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke in people who already have heart disease, finds a new study.
The findings showed that for every 100 people eating the highest proportion of healthy "Mediterranean" foods, there were three fewer heart attacks, strokes or deaths compared to 100 people eating the least amount of healthy foods.
Some foods - particularly fruit and vegetables - seem to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Eating more of these foods in preference to others may lower the risk factors.
However, avoiding a "Western" diet that included refined grains, sweets, desserts, sugared drinks and deep-fried food did not reveal an increase in the adverse events.
Eating greater amounts of healthy food was more important for people with heart diseases than avoiding unhealthy foods, the researchers noted while adding that no evidence of harm was found from modest consumption of foods such as refined carbohydrates, deep-fried foods, sugars and deserts.
For the study, published in the European Heart Journal, the team asked 15,482 people with stable coronary artery disease with an average age of 67 from 39 countries around the world, to complete a lifestyle questionnaire.
Depending on their answers, they were given a "Mediterranean diet score" (MDS), which assigned more points for increased consumption of healthy foods with a total range of 0-24; a "Western diet score" (WDS) assigned points for increased consumption of unhealthy foods.
"After adjusting for other factors that might affect the results, we found that every one unit increase in the Mediterranean Diet Score was associated with a seven percent reduction in the risk of heart attacks, strokes or death from cardiovascular or other causes in patients with existing heart disease," said lead researcher Ralph Stewart, professor at University of Auckland in New Zealand.
"We should place more emphasis on encouraging people with heart disease to eat more healthy foods, and perhaps focus less on avoiding unhealthy foods," he suggested.
Mediterranean diet could reduce risks during pregnancy
Women who follow a Mediterranean-style diet in the years before becoming pregnant could face a significantly reduced risk of developing hypertensive disorders during pregnancy, new research from The University of Queensland (UQ) suggests.
UQ School of Public Health researchers found that young women who followed a diet rich in vegetables, legumes, nuts, tofu, rice, pasta, rye bread, red wine and fish before pregnancy had a 42 per cent lower risk of developing gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia.
The researchers analysed dietary information relating to 6149 pregnancies in 3582 women aged 25 to 30 years in 2003, through data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health.
UQ School of Public Health PhD candidate Ms Danielle Schoenaker said the study emphasised the importance of a healthy diet for young women.
"Diet is a modifiable factor, and encouraging young women to consume a Mediterranean-style diet could lower their risk of developing gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia, Ms Schoenaker said.
"No individual food could fully explain the association with hypertensive disorders, which suggests it’s the combination of foods in the Mediterranean-style diet that is important.
"Hypertensive disorders are a common complication during pregnancy, and lead to an increased post-pregnancy risk of mothers and their children developing chronic diseases."
Ms Schoenaker stressed that the results indicated a clear relationship between a Mediterranean-style diet and a lower risk of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, but further studies were needed to confirm the findings.
This study is published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.