The likelihood of becoming depressed may be significantly lowered by adhering to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, according to a study that followed 964 individuals for an average of 6½ years.

The DASH diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and fat-free/low-fat dairy foods and limits foods high in saturated fats and sugar. The diet was developed with funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health to help lower blood pressure.

The study participants (average age 81 years) were evaluated yearly for symptoms of depression and they filled out questionnaires about how often they ate various foods. This allowed the researchers to compile data of who followed the DASH, Mediterranean, or traditional Western diet more closely. They then divided the participants into 3 groups depending on how closely they adhered to the diets.

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The data showed that participants who fell into the top group for DASH diet adherence had an 11% lower rate of becoming depressed vs those in the lowest group of DASH diet adherence. The reverse was seen among those who closely followed the Western diet, with these participants having a higher likelihood of developing depression. 

“Making a lifestyle change such as changing your diet is often preferred over taking medications,” said lead author Laurel Cherian, MD, of Rush University Medical Center. “Future studies are now needed to confirm these results and to determine the best nutritional components of the DASH diet to prevent depression later in life.” 

The authors stressed how the results do not prove the DASH diet leads to a reduced depression risk, but rather an association. An earlier analysis of the same study found an association between the Mediterranean-DASH diet and a slower rate of cognitive decline in stroke survivors.

The full findings of the study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in April. 

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