New Study Finds Link Between Mediterranean Diet and Lower Depression Risk in Older Women

by Ella

A recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition sheds light on the potential mental health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet (MD), particularly in older women. While the MD is renowned for its positive impact on weight management and overall health, its effects on mental well-being have remained uncertain until now.

Depression is a prevalent mental health condition affecting approximately 5% of the global population, with its incidence escalating with age. Older women, in particular, face a heightened risk of experiencing depressive symptoms, especially after the age of 60. In Italy, for instance, up to 10% of individuals over 65 report depressive symptoms, with rates climbing to 14% among women aged 85 and older.


Various factors, including biological, psychological, social, and environmental influences, contribute to the development of depression. As such, diet is increasingly recognized as a modifiable risk factor that can potentially mitigate the onset of depressive symptoms. Previous research has suggested a correlation between adherence to the MD and a reduced risk of depression, but further investigation is required to elucidate the extent of this association, particularly among older individuals.


The study in question delved into the connection between the MD, renowned for its favorable nutritional and antioxidant profile, and depressive symptoms in a cohort of older men and women. Researchers aimed to clarify this association, paying special attention to potential gender-related differences and the impact of individual dietary components.


Data for the study were collected via a food frequency questionnaire designed to assess adherence to the MD, quantified through the Mediterranean diet score (MDS), alongside a depression measurement scale. Participants were drawn from the population-based Nutrition, Gut Microbiota, and Brain Aging (NutBrain) cohort, with the study conducted from October 2019 to January 2023.


The study encompassed 325 men and 473 women, with the majority falling within the 65 to 74 age bracket. Notably, approximately 20% of the cohort exhibited depressive symptoms, with a stark difference observed between genders, with 8% of men and 28% of women reporting such symptoms. Factors such as marital status, living arrangements, medication usage, and self-perceived health status were identified as influencing the likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms.

In terms of dietary habits, adherence to the MD varied, with 33% of men and 25% of women reporting high adherence. Notably, participants with higher MDS scores were significantly less likely to report depressive symptoms. Further analysis revealed that high fish consumption was associated with a reduced risk of depression, particularly among women.

Moreover, women with a higher ratio of monounsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acids (MUFA/SFA) in their diet exhibited a lower likelihood of depressive symptoms. Nut and fruit consumption also emerged as protective factors against depression, with each one-point increase in MDS correlating with a decrease in the risk of depressive symptoms.

The study’s findings underscore the potential benefits of the MD, particularly its emphasis on fresh fish and higher MUFA/SFA ratios, in mitigating depression risk among older individuals. While further research is warranted to validate these findings and explore underlying biological mechanisms, the study highlights the pivotal role of diet in safeguarding mental health in aging populations. Consequently, public health initiatives aimed at promoting healthy dietary habits could yield significant dividends in the realm of mental well-being among older adults.



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