HEIDI DOUGLASS | h.douglass@unsw.edu.au

Researchers at UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) have revealed new insight into the connection between nutrition and depression in adults aged 45 years and older.

The review, published in Ageing Research Reviews, indicates a beneficial relationship between higher intakes of vegetables and fruits and lower incidence of depression, with a higher risk of depression for those that consumed a predominantly western diet or foods that increase inflammation in the body, such as refined carbohydrates, fried foods and red meat.

Depression currently affects 264 million people globally and is the third leading burden of disease. When compared with younger adults, depression in older adults is linked to poorer physical and cognitive performance– and ultimately may impact on a person’s ability to live independently. 

According to senior author Dr Simone Reppermund, Senior Research Fellow and an expert in depression and cognitive function, depression is also associated with increased morbidity and suicide.

"Changing certain lifestyle behaviours, such as diet, can reduce the incidence of depression."

Dr Simone Reppermund

Lead author, Annabel Matison, and colleagues from CHeBA, University of Sydney and UNSW Sydney’s Department of Developmental Disability Neuropsychiatry examined thirty-three articles published up to December 2020 that investigated the association between dietary intake and incidence of depression in community-dwelling individuals. 

Ms Matison confirmed that both the Dietary Inflammatory Index and the Western diet were associated with increased depression, whereas higher intake of fruit and vegetables lowered the risk.

"We found that “the current evidence suggests Mediterranean diets, ‘healthy’ diets and fish intake were not associated with depression."

Annabel Matison

Co-author and Leader of CHeBA’s Genetics & Epigenomics Group, Dr Karen Mather, said “the results provide a promising direction for further investigation.”

“More studies looking at middle-aged and older adults will certainly lead us to being able to provide detailed dietary recommendations to lower the risk of depression,” said Dr Mather.