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Close to one in three men will experience a period of depression in their lifetime. For men in their young adult years, this is a statistic that has risen dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic.
Sadly, this not only compromises men’s mental health — it also leaves them far more vulnerable to chronic diseases that can reduce their lifespan.
Even worse, depression is a significant risk factor for suicide, the leading cause of death in young adults.
That’s could be because roughly 30 percent of patients living with depression won’t respond to traditional treatments, such as therapy and anti-depressant medications.
Even if a medication works, the side effects, which can include everything from fatigue and weight gain to nausea, insomnia and erectile dysfunction may feel just as bad as the issue they’re designed to treat.
Luckily, according to research out of Australia, there may be another way for young men living with depression to feel better.
Going Mediterranean to get happy
A study, conducted at the University of Technology Sydney, assessed the impact of a Mediterranean diet on the symptoms of depression in men aged 18 to 25 over a 12-week timeframe.
It’s a diet that’s rich in colorful vegetables, legumes and whole grains, as well as oily fish, olive oil and raw, unsalted nuts.
“The primary focus was on increasing diet quality with fresh whole foods while reducing the intake of ‘fast’ foods, sugar and processed red meat,” said lead researcher, Jessica Bayes.
So, how did the men do?
“We were surprised by how willing the young men were to take on a new diet,” Bayes said. “Those assigned to the Mediterranean diet were able to significantly change their original diets, under the guidance of a nutritionist, over a short time frame.”
And when it came to their depression, the results spoke for them themselves.
When the men switch to a healthy Mediterranean diet, they saw a significant improvement in their symptoms of depression.
In fact, the results were so impressive that the researchers say the benefits offered by the Mediterranean diet suggest that doctors and psychologists should consider referring young men who come in for depression to a nutritionist or dietitian for help.
This may be the first study to show the mental health benefits of the diet in men, but a large Swedish study found that women (aged 50 and up) who adhered to the Mediterranean diet also experienced a lower risk of depression.
The happiness hormone that’s made in the gut
How can a simple diet change affect a change in mood?
Well, there are a number of ways scientists believe food affects mood…
One of the most important of these is the fact that approximately 90 percent of serotonin, a chemical that helps you feel happy, is made in the gut by your gut microbes (the population of good and bad bacteria that populate your intestines).
Increasing amounts of evidence demonstrate the ability of these microbes to communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve along the “gut-brain axis.”
Put simply, when you feed the good microbes in your gut good things, they can send good signals to your brain.
The key here is that you need those good microbes.
The first way to ensure this is to increase the number of probiotics you get through either diet or supplementation each day.
And secondly, to have beneficial microbes, you have to feed them fiber, which is found in the fruits, veggies and legumes that make up such a big part of the Mediterranean diet.
So going Mediterranean can mean getting gut-healthy and happy all in one fell swoop.
For a crash course in all the ways the Mediterranean diet can benefit your gut, be sure to check out this article from my colleague, Jenny Smiechowski.
As a bonus, it lays out the seven simple steps to clear up any questions you might have about the diet, and make eating Mediterranean easy.
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A better diet helps beat depression in young men – ScienceDaily
Men and Depression – American Psychological Association
Antidepressants: Get tips to cope with side effects – Mayo Clinic