Mediterranean Diet and Fish Consumption Associated with Lower Depression Risk in Women

by Ella

A recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition reveals a potential link between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and decreased rates of depression among older women.

Depression, a prevalent mental health condition affecting approximately 5.7% of adults aged 60 and older according to the World Health Organization (WHO), appears to be 50% more common among women than men.


The study, conducted as part of the Italian NutBrain project, involved 325 men and 473 women aged between 65 and 97, with an average age of 73. Each participant completed a comprehensive questionnaire assessing their daily dietary habits, allowing researchers to calculate their Mediterranean diet score (MDS). Participants were then categorized into three groups based on their adherence to the diet.


Additionally, participants were screened for symptoms of depression using the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale.


Results indicated that 19.8% of participants reported symptoms of depression, with women showing a higher prevalence of 27.9% compared to 8.0% in men.


Interestingly, individuals with higher MDS scores, indicating closer adherence to the Mediterranean diet, demonstrated a 55% lower likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms. Notably, women in the highest tertile of MDS scores exhibited a 60% reduction in depression risk.

Further analysis revealed a correlation between increased consumption of fish and monounsaturated fatty acids (found in foods like olive oil, peanuts, and avocados) and a decreased risk of depression. Specifically, individuals with higher fish intake experienced a 44% overall reduction in depression risk, with women showing a 56% reduction. Furthermore, each gram of fish consumed per day was associated with a 2% decrease in depression risk among women.

The study also highlighted the beneficial effects of consuming three or more servings of fresh fish weekly, leading to a 62% reduction in depression risk. However, no significant association was observed with canned tuna consumption.

Monounsaturated fatty acids, prevalent in the Mediterranean diet, were found to play a crucial role in reducing depression risk, particularly in women. Participants consuming a higher proportion of monounsaturated fatty acids versus saturated fatty acids exhibited a 42% lower risk of depressive symptoms.

Registered dietitians offered insights into the potential mechanisms underlying these findings. Michelle Routhenstein emphasized the anti-inflammatory properties and neuroprotective effects of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and monounsaturated fatty acids. These nutrients may modulate neurotransmitter function and support brain health, contributing to reduced depression risk.

Kristin Kirkpatrick highlighted the broader health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, attributing its positive effects on mental health to its rich array of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Additionally, the diet’s emphasis on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, nuts, and seeds may further support optimal brain health and neurotransmitter function.

In conclusion, the study suggests that adherence to the Mediterranean diet, particularly increased consumption of fish and monounsaturated fatty acids, may play a role in reducing depression risk among older women. These findings underscore the importance of dietary factors in mental health outcomes and offer valuable insights for future research and clinical practice.



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