NEWS BRIEFING: Healthy diet may help fight depression

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Eating a healthy diet may ease symptoms of depression, according to an analysis of data from almost 46,000 people. The study pooled the results of 16 randomised controlled trials that looked at the effects of dietary interventions on symptoms of depression and anxiety. They found weight loss, nutrition boosting and fat reduction diets were all linked to reduced symptoms of depression, mainly in women.

Organisation/s: Western Sydney University

Funder: Dr Firth would like to note that he is supported by a Blackmores Institute Fellowship.

Media Briefing/Press Conference

From: Australian Science Media Centre


  • Dr Joseph Firth is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University.

Date: Monday 4 Feb 2019
Start time: 10:30am AEDT
Duration: Approx 15 min
Venue: Online

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Full briefing recording below.


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Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Dr Joseph Firth is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University

Our analysis of the overall evidence shows that adopting a healthier diet can boost peoples’ mood. However, it has no clear effects on anxiety. 

The evidence so far mostly shows that eating healthier reduces mild depression in the general population. Future research should now focus on the effects of dietary interventions in people with clinically-diagnosed psychiatric conditions.

The study also found that all types of dietary improvement appeared to have equal effects on mental health, with weight loss, fat reduction or nutrient-improving diets all having similar benefits for depressive symptoms.
This is actually good news. The similar effects from any type of dietary improvement suggests that highly-specific or specialised diets are unnecessary for the average individual.
Instead, just making simple changes is equally beneficial for mental health. In particular, eating more nutrient-dense meals that are high in fibre and vegetables, while cutting back on fast-foods and refined sugars, appears to be sufficient for avoiding the potentially negative psychological effects of a ‘junk food’ diet.

Last updated: 04 Feb 2019 1:02pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
Dr Firth would like to note that he is supported by a Blackmores Institute Fellowship.
Dr Carly Moores, research assistant at Flinders University

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that in 2017-18, 13.1% of Australians had an anxiety-related condition while 10.4% had depression or feelings of depression, and the prevalence for both has increased from 2014-15. At the same time, we know that Australians have room to improve their diets as just 5.4% of adults meet the recommendations for the number daily serves of fruits and vegetables as per the Australian Dietary Guidelines. Fruits and vegetables contain many important nutrients including fibre, vitamins and minerals, as well as phytochemicals like polyphenols, and a variety of these foods should be consumed daily for good health.
This study is a meta-analysis which has combined data from a number of independent studies in order to gain greater statistical power and assess whether there is a common effect of diet interventions on mental health outcomes. All 16 included studies of randomised controlled trials reported measures of depressive symptoms, and 11 also reported anxiety outcomes. Notably, only one study comprised a sample which had a primary diagnosis of clinical depression. The analysis showed a significant effect of diet interventions on reducing symptoms of depression compared to control treatment, however there was no overall effect of diet interventions on anxiety outcomes when compared to changes in control groups.  Interestingly, there appeared to be gender differences as consistent positive and larger effects were observed for both depression and anxiety outcomes following diet intervention studies with predominantly (>75%) or all female participants.

Mental health is a growing issue in Australia and this research makes an important contribution to what we know about the effects of diet on mental health outcomes. However, the exact mechanisms by which diet can influence mental health are not yet fully understood. Further investigations are required to identify what diet changes are most beneficial and should be recommended as an adjunct to treatment and part of self-management of mental health symptoms.


ABS source:

Last updated: 04 Feb 2019 1:00pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Alfred Deakin Professor of Psychiatry Michael Berk is from the School of Medicine, Deakin University and Barwon Health, and Director at IMPACT Strategic Research Centre (Innovation in Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Treatment)

This important study pools information from a group of studies that explored whether changing diet can improve symptoms of depression. Importantly most of the studies were not targeted at people with clinical depression.

The study found improved, although modestly improved, symptoms of depression in people who improved their diet. This confirms previous studies that showed associations between diet quality and depression risk.

Clinical trials are the most robust form of evidence and they provide guidance to clinicians and to people with depression. This suggests that improving diet may make a small yet meaningful contribution to the reduction of depression.

This also suggests that dietary advice could provide additional benefit to people over and above that provided by medication and psychotherapy. Diet could be added to exercise and smoking cessation as strategies to augment usual treatment.

Last updated: 04 Feb 2019 12:59pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.

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