In a study of 3000 Australian adolescents, published in the journal PLoS One, Deakin University researchers revealed that diet quality predicted mental health in adolescents over time, suggesting that it might be possible to use diet to prevent mental health problems developing in the first place.
“We found that diet quality and mental health were linked, with healthier diets associated with better mental health in 2005 and also predicting better mental health in 2007. This relationship even persisted when mental health at the starting point was taken into account,” said Dr Felice Jacka from Deakin University’s Barwon Psychiatric Research Unit based at Barwon Health, who led the study.
“Three quarters of psychiatric illnesses begin before the age of 25 and the average age that depressive illnesses start is only 13 years old. Once an individual experiences depression, they are more likely to experience it again. We believe that diet may be an important environmental factor influencing the development of mental health problems during adolescence, when rapid growth makes good nutrition particularly important.
“This new evidence suggests that it might be possible to prevent some cases of depression developing in the first place by ensuring that the diets of adolescents are sufficiently nutritious.”
“Importantly, we found that changes in diet quality over time were linked to changes in mental health,” Dr Jacka said.
“On average, adolescents whose diets improved over the two year period also experienced an improvement in mental health over that time, while those adolescents whose dietary quality deteriorated over a two year period experienced an associated deterioration in mental health. This wasn’t explained by changes in physical activity levels or weight.”