New U.S. research has suggested another benefit of following the popular DASH diet, finding that it could help reduce the risk of developing depression.
Carried out by researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, the study followed 964 participants with an average age of 81 for an average of six and a half years.
Participants were assessed yearly for symptoms of depression, such as being bothered by things that usually didn't affect them and feeling hopeless about the future, and asked to complete questionnaires on their diet to assess how closely they followed diets such as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), Mediterranean or the traditional Western diets.
The DASH diet is high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and recommends a regular intake of nuts and beans, lean meats, fish and poultry, and as well as fat-free or low-fat dairy products rather than those that are high in saturated fats and sugar.
The team found that participants who followed the DASH diet most closely were less likely to develop depression than those who did not, with those who adhered to the diet most showing an 11 percent lower risk than those who adhered the least.
In contrast, those who followed a Western diet most closely, which is high in saturated fats and red meats and low in fruits and vegetables, were more likely to develop depression.
Study author Dr. Laurel Cherian commented on the findings saying, "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. 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."
However, Cherian noted that the study does not prove that the DASH diet reduces the risk of depression -- it only shows an association. She added that "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."
The DASH diet has already been shown to have a positive effect on other health conditions, with studies showing it can help to reduce high blood pressure, lower levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol, and lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Combining elements of the DASH diet with elements of the Mediterranean diet to create the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) has also been shown to be effective in significantly reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
The findings are set to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 70th Annual Meeting in Los Angeles, April 21 to 27, 2018.