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DASH Diet May Lower Depression Risk

Study adds to list of potential health benefits

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A diet focused on the consumption of lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy products may prevent depression later in life, according to a new study.

The DASH diet regularly receives praise for its health and weight-loss benefits, but researchers say the diet may have a new advantage: It may help reduce your depression risk. 

A preliminary study that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in April found that people whose diets adhered the closest to DASH were less likely to develop depression. DASH is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and it focuses on the consumption of lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.

The diet, initially developed by the National Institutes of Health to help treat high blood pressure, recently tied for best overall diet in a ranking by U.S. News & World Report. According to the Mayo Clinic, it has the ability to drop systolic blood pressure by eight to 14 points over time, and by a few points in just two weeks.

However, the research about its potential effects on depression are new. The study focused on 964 participants with an average age of 81. They were evaluated yearly for an average of 6.5 years, and were monitored for depression symptoms. They also filled out questionnaires about their diets.

The participants were divided into three groups, and the two that most closely followed the DASH diet were less likely than the third group to develop depression.

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," said study author Laurel Cherian, M.D., of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

"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,” Cherian said.

Cherian emphasized the study only shows an association, not proof, that the DASH diet reduces depression. "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 in a statement.