Objectives: We investigated whether a Mediterranean-style diet (MedDiet) supplemented with fish oil can improve mental health in adults suffering depression.
Methods: Adults with self-reported depression were randomized to receive fortnightly food hampers and MedDiet cooking workshops for 3 months and fish oil supplements for 6 months, or attend social groups fortnightly for 3 months. Assessments at baseline, 3 and 6 months included mental health, quality of life (QoL) and dietary questionnaires, and blood samples for erythrocyte fatty acid analysis.
Results: n = 152 eligible adults aged 18-65 were recruited (n = 95 completed 3-month and n = 85 completed 6-month assessments). At 3 months, the MedDiet group had a higher MedDiet score (t = 3.95, P < 0.01), consumed more vegetables (t = 3.95, P < 0.01), fruit (t = 2.10, P = 0.04), nuts (t = 2.29, P = 0.02), legumes (t = 2.41, P = 0.02) wholegrains (t = 2.63, P = 0.01), and vegetable diversity (t = 3.27, P < 0.01); less unhealthy snacks (t = -2.10, P = 0.04) and red meat/chicken (t = -2.13, P = 0.04). The MedDiet group had greater reduction in depression (t = -2.24, P = 0.03) and improved mental health QoL scores (t = 2.10, P = 0.04) at 3 months. Improved diet and mental health were sustained at 6 months. Reduced depression was correlated with an increased MedDiet score (r = -0.298, P = 0.01), nuts (r = -0.264, P = 0.01), and vegetable diversity (r = -0.303, P = 0.01). Other mental health improvements had similar correlations, most notably for increased vegetable diversity and legumes. There were some correlations between increased omega-3, decreased omega-6 and improved mental health.
Discussion: This is one of the first randomized controlled trials to show that healthy dietary changes are achievable and, supplemented with fish oil, can improve mental health in people with depression.
Keywords: Depression; Fish oil; Intervention; Mediterranean diet; Mental health; Omega-3; Omega-6; Quality of life.