By Robert Preidt
"Making a lifestyle change -- such as changing your diet -- is often preferred over taking medications, so we wanted to see if diet could be an effective way to reduce the risk of depression," said study author Dr. Laurel Cherian, who's with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
The study included nearly 1,000 people, average age 81, who were followed for about 6.5 years. Those who followed the so-called DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) were 11 percent less likely to develop depression than people who did not closely follow the diet.
Along with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, the DASH diet features fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and restricts foods high in saturated fats and sugar.
The researchers also found that people who ate a diet high in saturated fats and red meats, and low in fruits and vegetables (a typical Western diet) had an increased risk of depression.
The findings were presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), in Los Angeles. Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
"Depression is common in older adults and more frequent in people with memory problems, vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or people who have had a stroke," Cherian explained in an AAN news release.
The study does not prove that the DASH diet reduces the risk of depression, it only shows an association, she noted.
"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 and to best help people keep their brains healthy," Cherian said.