If you have a dog that is not feeling well, when you bring the dog to a veterinarian, what is the first thing the vet asks?:
“What are you feeding this dog?”
This is because the vet is trained to know that what the animal ingests will affect it’s health considerably.
Although a tenet virtually ignored by modern medicine until very recently, it stands to reason that what you eat is going to affect your body in a substantial way. This is no truer than when it comes to mental health. Poor diet will increase the likelihood of any disease to you might be predisposed.
Healthy Dietary Choices for Best Mood
More and more studies are showing that healthy foods can prevent both anxiety and depression, and block the ravages on the body that occurs with mental illness (Antonogeorgos, et al., 2012). One landmark five-year study out of Spain looked at the lives and eating patterns of 10,000 people. What they found was those people who followed a Mediterranean diet were 50 percent less likely to develop anxiety or depression. The study specifically found that intake of fruits, nuts, beans, and olive oil supported mood the best (Sánchez-Villegas et al., 2009).
Other studies regarding the Mediterranean diet have also shown that the endothelial linings (the inner linings of the blood vessels) of these subjects were much healthier, and predisposed them to lower rates of cardiovascular disease. Even more, further studies by the same group found that those people who ate in this healthy style also had higher levels of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein secreted by the nervous system that is critical for growth, repair, and survival of healthy brain and nervous system cells (Sánchez-Villegas et al., 2011). BDNF has been shown to be low in both individuals with depression (Yoshimura, et al., 2010) and anxiety (Suliman et al., 2013). BNDF likely plays a role in all forms of mental decline, including Alzheimer’s disease.
The senior author of this research work, Dr. Miguel Angel Martinez-Gonzalez, offered his understanding of Mediterranean diet advantage:
“The membranes of our neurons (nerve cells) are composed of fat, so the quality of fat that you are eating definitely has an influence on the quality of the neuron membranes, and the body’s synthesis of neurotransmitters is dependent on the vitamins you’re eating,”
Components of a Mediterranean Diet:
(1) High amounts of mono-unsaturated fats and low amounts of saturated fats
(2) High intake of legumes
(3) High fish intake
(4) High intake of whole grain cereals and breads
(5) High intake of fruits and nuts
(6) High intake of vegetables
(7) Moderate alcohol intake
(8) Moderate intake of milk and dairy products
(9) Low intake of meat and meat products
A recent cross sectional study from the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry (Davison and Kaplan, 2012) looked closely at the foods and nutrient intakes of 97 people with confirmed mood disorders. Researchers looked at intake of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, as well as vitamins and minerals. They evaluated these patients using a Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) scores as well as the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale and the Young Mania Rating Scale. These scales are the most common way to help decide if someone with anxiety or depression is feeling better or worse. Significant correlations were found between GAF scores and energy (kilocalories), carbohydrates, fiber, total fat. Also correlated were intakes of linoleic acid (an omega 6 fatty acid, which we will discuss in chapter 4), riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, vitamins B6 and B12, pantothenic acid, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron as well as magnesium and zinc. The study showed higher levels of mental function were associated with a higher intake of nutrients. When dietary supplement use was added to the nutrient intake from food, GAF scores remained positively correlated with all dietary minerals, suggesting that supplementation, along with healthy foods, can play a role in helping mood disorder even more than one or the other on their own.
Which Diet Is Really the Best?
Often times, patients and fellow practitioners will ask me, in my opinion, which is the best diet. I think this question is best answered by understanding each patient case and possible food sensitivities to truly create an individualized diet. But, if I did not know anything about an individual, or his or her history, I would probably recommend the Mediterranean Diet, and not just to make my Sicilian ancestors happy.
Although no one diet is completely perfect for every individual due to possible allergies and sensitivities, there is reason to believe the Mediterranean Diet may far surpass the benefits of other choices for those with mood problems. Certainly, no one diet is 100 percent effective and healthy for every person, but the Mediterranean Diet has often been considered one of the most healthful for many different people and conditions, and the research seems to back this bold statement up.
Consider trying the principles of the Mediterranean Diet listed above, and see how it makes you feel.
About Dr. Bongiorno:
Peter Bongiorno, ND, LAc, authored How Come They’re Happy and I’m Not? The Complete Natural Guide to Healing Depression for Good and the upcoming book Holistic Therapies for Anxiety and Depression by Norton Press. More about Peter can be found at drpeterbongiorno.com, innersourcehealth.com, @drbongiorno, and Facebook.
Antonogeorgos et al. Understanding the role of depression and anxiety on cardiovascular disease risk, using structural equation modeling; the mediating effect of the Mediterranean diet and physical activity: the ATTICA study. Ann Epidemiol. 2012 Sep;22(9):630-7.
Davison KM, Kaplan BJ. Nutrient intakes are correlated with overall psychiatric functioning in adults with mood disorders. Can J Psychiatry. 2012 Feb;57(2):85-92.
Sánchez-Villegas A, Delgado-Rodríguez M, Alonso A, Schlatter J, Lahortiga F, Serra Majem L, Martínez-González MA.
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009 Oct;66(10):1090-8. doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.129.
Association of the Mediterranean dietary pattern with the incidence of depression: the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra/University of Navarra follow-up (SUN) cohort
Sánchez-Villegas A, Galbete C, Martinez-González MA, Martinez JA, Razquin C, Salas-Salvadó J, Estruch R, Buil-Cosiales P, Martí A. The effect of the Mediterranean diet on plasma brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels: the PREDIMED-NAVARRA randomized trial.Nutr Neurosci. 2011 Sep;14(5):195-201.
Suliman S, Hemmings SM, Seedat S Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) protein levels in anxiety disorders: systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Front Integr Neurosci. 2013 Jul 29;7:55.
Yoshimura R, Ikenouchi-Sugita A, Hori H, Umene-Nakano W, Hayashi K, Katsuki A, Ueda N, Nakamura J. Blood levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in major depressive disorder. Seishin Shinkeigaku Zasshi