Diet is No Substitute for Depression Medication (But It Could Help Prevent It)

If depression medications operate on the function that the body is simply not making the right balance of neurotransmitters, it should make sense that nutritional intervention should help correct that imbalance, right?

Well, apparently that is not the case. 

A new study testifies that dietary changes and nutritional supplementation are probably not as effective at relieving depression as we had originally hoped they would be.  It was conducted by a team from the University of Exeter (UK), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Netherlands), the University of Balearic Islands (Spain), and the University of Leipzig (Germany). The study actually intended to investigate the potential connection between obesity and depression, as data suggests that those who are overweight/obese tend to be at a higher risk for depression; which suggests that poor nutrition, perhaps, may be a cause.

But the new study—called the MooDFOOD trial—investigated precisely this correlation to find that one such relationship does not appear to exist. In fact, the study intimates that people who take a daily nutritional supplement are about as likely to suffer depression as anyone who does not. 

University of Exeter’s Professor Ed Watkins explains “Because depression is such a common problem, finding effective and widely available ways to prevent depression at a population level is an important goal.” 

An expert in Experimental and Applied Clinical Psychology, he goes on to say, “Diet and nutrition held promise as one means to reach large numbers of people. However, this trial convincingly demonstrates that nutritional supplements do not help to prevent depression.”

The long term, randomized study examined 1,000 overweight/obese participants who were at elevated risk for depression and showed mild symptoms for the condition but had not been clinically diagnosed.  Half were given a placebo and the other half were prescribed nutritional supplements containing selenium, zinc, folic acid, vitamin D, and omega-3 fish oils.  In addition, half of the people in each group received behavioral therapy to observe any difference in responses to nutrition (or lack thereof) and traditional treatment. 

While the study did not prove that nutrition cures depression, MooDFOOD project coordinators Professor Marjolein Visser and Professor Ingeborg Brouwer (of Vrije Unversiteit Amsterdam) advise that a healthy diet is an excellent preventative measure against developing depression (among many other diseases).  They write, “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.”