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Health benefits for the brain and mind from the Mediterranean diet

Updated: Apr 14, 2019

The Mediterranean diet is well known for its physical health benefits and it is now being hailed as the latest weapon in tackling cognitive and mental and health problems.

Researchers in Australia have found the diet can help those suffering from severe depression. Patients with major depressive disorders consumed a Mediterranean-style diet rich in wholegrains, legumes, fresh fruit and vegetables, olive oil and nuts. After 12 weeks of healthy eating, researchers noted that one third of the participants reported a significant improvement in their mood and symptoms. Professor Felice Jacka, director of Deakin University's Food and Mood Centre in Australia, said the Mediterranean diet had been credited with improving cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of diabetes and increasing longevity. "We already know that diet has a very potent impact on the biological aspects of our body that affect depression risks", she said. "The immune system, brain plasticity, and gut microbiota seem to be central not just to our physical health, but also our mental health. And diet, of course, is the main factor that affects the gut microbiota". Professor Jacka said people suffering from depression should not replace therapy and drug treatments with the Mediterranean diet. "Most of the people in our study were receiving psychotherapy or pharmacology treatment", noting with respect to diet that "it's something that supports any other interventions designed to help depression". Professor Jacka would like to see dietitian support made available to those experiencing depression.

To add to this Australian research, there is also international evidence that the Mediterranean diet improves thinking skills and and brain volume. Further-more, problems with mood can also affect our thinking skills adversely, so there is likely a 'double whammy' positive effect of this diet on our cognitive functioning. More specifically, research shows a healthy eating pattern such as the Mediterranean diet offers a protective effect on brain health and is correlated with a decreased rate of cognitive decline and a lower risk of cognitive impairment.