Scientists from the University of South Australia found that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with fish oil can improve mental health in people with depression.
The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that’s based on the traditional cuisines of Greece, Italy, and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.
Plant-based foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices, are the foundation of the diet.
Many studies have confirmed that the Mediterranean diet helps prevent heart disease and stroke.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in fish oil and certain marine algae. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce pain and swelling and also prevent the blood from clotting easily.
Studies have found that these polyunsaturated fatty acids benefit heart health in healthy people, those at high risk of heart disease, or those who already have heart disease.
Two omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — are thought to have the most potential to benefit people with mood disorders.
In the study, researchers examined whether a Mediterranean-style diet supplemented with fish oil can improve mental health in people suffering from depression.
They tested 152 adults aged 18-65 with self-reported depression.
The participants received fortnightly food hampers and Mediterranean diet cooking workshops for 3 months and fish oil supplements for 6 months, or attend social groups fortnightly for 3 months.
The researchers examined mental health, quality of life (QoL) and dietary questionnaires, and blood samples throughout the study period.
At 3 months, the Mediterranean diet group had a higher Mediterranean diet score, and ate more vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, whole grains, less unhealthy snacks, and red meat/chicken.
The Mediterranean diet group also had a greater reduction in depression and improved quality of life at 3 months. Improved diet and mental health were sustained at 6 months.
The team found that reduced depression was linked to an increased Mediterranean diet score, nuts, and vegetable diversity.
Other mental health improvements had similar associations, most notably for increased vegetable diversity and legumes.
The team also found some correlations between increased omega-3, decreased omega-6, and improved mental health.
Based on the findings, the researchers concluded that this is one of the first clinical trials to show that in people with depression, healthy dietary changes are achievable.
When supplemented with fish oil, a Mediterranean diet can improve mental health in adults with depression.
The research is published in Nutritional Neuroscience and was conducted by Natalie Parletta et al.
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