Shift to the Med Diet May Help Fight Depression

Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau Outreach Director

We’ve written extensively on how Arizona agriculture grows the Mediterranean Diet in the desert. But now new research suggests that adhering to a Mediterranean diet may even protect against the development of depressive symptoms, especially as we get older.

In the cross-sectional study, “Adherence to Mediterranean Diet and Risk of Late-Life Depression,” Konstantinow Argyropoulos, M.D., Ph.D., from Hellenic Open University in Greece, and colleagues examined the prevalence of late-life depression in an urban area in Athens, Greece, as well as examined the connections with adherence to a Mediterranean-based dietary pattern and other risk factors.

“Adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet has long been recognized as being good for health and has been associated with longer survival, reduced risk of cardiovascular or cancer mortality, and reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases,” said Dr. Argyropoulos during a recent press briefing. “A Mediterranean diet might also have protective effects against cognitive decline in older people because it combines foods and nutrients potentially protective against cognitive dysfunction or dementia.”

Whole grains, fresh fruit, and vegetables, along with olive oil, dairy and fish are the major compliments to a healthy Mediterranean Diet. Poultry, eggs, moderate wine intake and red meat are also in the Med diet group of foods know to contribute to the balance of the diet. This new study brings added insights to the diet’s potential.

Researchers used the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS-15) to screen the elderly participants for depressive symptoms, the Athens Insomnia Scale (AIS-8) to determine the presence of sleep disturbances and the MedDietScore (MDS) to assess adherence to the Mediterranean diet. They employed an anonymous questionnaire to collect basic demographic data.

Overall, 154 older adults took part in the study (mean age 71 years; 63.6% female). Based on the GDS-15, 116 participants (75.3%) screened negative for depression symptoms, 33 (21.4%) screened positive for moderate depression and five (3.2%) screened positive for severe depression, according to the presentation given during the May 18-22 American Psychiatric Association (APA) Annual Meeting in San Francisco. As measured by the AIS, 108 participants (70.1%) had no sleep problems and 46 (29.9%) had insomnia. Most participants were moderately adherent to the Mediterranean diet (64.3%), based on the MDS.

While we’re cautioned to be moderate in our enthusiasm for the study results, some contend the opportunity for healthy-lifestyle improvements based on the evidence can show gains. “Although we should be cautious about the study findings, they represent another potential reason to adopt a Mediterranean diet. Following a healthy lifestyle, which includes not only a Mediterranean-style diet but also plenty of physical activity and drinking alcohol only in moderation, is linked to a reduction in depression,” said Savannah Demko, Online Content Editor for Helio Psychiatry.


For Arizona agriculture, this is certainly good news. We’re good at what we do. The University of Arizona’s Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Shane Burgess calls Arizona, “The Nutrition State.” We may not be near the sandy beaches but with Arizona’s sun and water we’re creating our own oasis in the desert and feasting on the “Med” Diet for improved health.”

References: Argyropoulos K, et al. Adherence to Mediterranean diet and risk of late-life depression. Presented at: APA Annual Meeting; May 18-22, 2019; San Francisco.

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