After my studies in functional nutrition and extended studies into the role of the microbiome and inflammation in depression, it all became very clear…
*Eudaimonia (Greek: εὐδαιμονία), is a Greek word commonly translated as happiness or welfare; however, “human flourishing or prosperity” and “blessedness” have been proposed as a more accurate translations.Sure there are cognitive issues that contribute to depression which benefit greatly from disciplines such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and the whole field of Positive Psychology in general, as well as simple habit-based factors like regular exercise, but for the most part we are dealing with a diet-related disease.
It seems that, when it comes to depression, it’s not all in your head — the real “heart” of the matter actually lies in your gut.
Real Food to the Rescue!
So, as the Mediterranean diet is high in fresh, whole, plant-based foods and low in inflammatory foods such as red meat, omega-6 rich oils (e.g. canola oil) and the many processed and sugar-laden foods that many of us in the Western world eat, it’s little wonder that it has been proven1 to assist in reducing depression.
For this reason, I would go so far as to suggest that a strict anti-inflammatory regime such as the Mediterranean diet will eventually be proven to assist in reducing or avoiding virtually all inflammation-based NCDs (most cancers, heart disease, depression, dementia, asthma and many more).
For more detail on how our diet plays a major role in noncommunicable diseases like depression please read this article.
The Omega-3 Factor
The singular use of olive oil is also another important factor in the Mediterranean diet’s proven ability to help reduce depression. Being rich in omega-3, it contributes in three very important ways:
- our brains need omega-3 for improved brain function,
- a higher ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 leads to reduced inflammation, and
- omega-3 increases a person’s antioxidant function2; further reducing inflammation and factors (primarily the deleterious effect of uninhibited free-radical production3) which contribute to NCDs like depression.
Our Microbiome is the Mothership
There is also much to be said for a predominantly whole foods, plant-based diet in respect to improving the microbiome — which is where the vast majority of our “feel good” neurotransmitters are actually produced.
In 2016, key studies4 have revealed the part played by the brain–gut–microbiota axis in disorders as diverse as depression, obesity and autism spectrum disorder. The data indicates that not only can alterations in gut-microbial composition substantially affect central physiology, but that changes in the gut microbiota can directly and significantly affect our emotional and behavioural nature.
“Although serotonin is well known as a brain neurotransmitter, it is estimated that 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is made in the digestive tract.” 5
With what we now know in this area, changing to something similar to a modified Mediterranean diet combined with pre- and pro-biotic foods or supplements will most-likely have a far greater long-term effect on depression than commonly prescribed SSRIs and other psychotropic medication.
Some further information about overcoming depression (including diet-related topics) can be found in this article.
So what IS the Mediterranean Diet?
Essentially, following a Mediterranean diet means eating in the way that the people in the Mediterranean region traditionally ate, which typically includes a generous portion of fresh produce, whole grains and legumes, as well as some healthy fats and fish.