The DASH Diet and Depression

A study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that individuals who followed the DASH diet, short for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension”, had a lower chance of developing depression. The DASH diet was started in order to emphasize the importance of eating fruits and vegetables along with low-fat or nonfat dairy, lean meats, and avoiding foods high in salt and sugar. The plan was created to help individuals with high blood pressure. Over the years, the DASH diet has shown to be successful in lowering blood pressure and studies are now showing that individuals who adhere to the DASH diet have lower rates of depression compared to those with diets high in saturated fats and red meats and low in fruits and vegetables. The term “diet” should be used lightly in this scenario as the DASH diet is not intended for people to count calories, lose weight or keep track of their macros; but rather this change in lifestyle encourages individuals to eat more whole foods in an effort to reduce their blood pressure as hypertension can lead to heart disease and arterial disease which are the main culprits for stroke. Individuals who are older in age who have cognitive decline or a history of stroke are more prone to develop depression. Depression and other mental health disorders have strongly been linked to nutrition and many experts believe that keeping a nutritious and balanced diet can increase energy levels throughout the day.

Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States for individuals 15-44 years of age and more than 15 million adults in the United States are diagnosed with depression each year. Depressive disorders are characterized under mood disorders and cause severe symptoms that affect how one thinks, feels, and interacts with others. This can result in extreme unhappiness in every aspect of an individual’s life resulting in potential turmoil in the workplace, in the home and in personal relationships with others. Depression is a multifactorial mood disorder meaning that many causes contribute to this disorder such as genetic factors and major life stressors. Regardless of origin, an individual with depression who has not received treatment will often turn to any possible solution. This can include food, typically calorie-dense food, often referred to as hyper-palatable food. These foods are the go-to because they boost the serotonin level in the brain and serve as a mood elevator. Unfortunately, the lift is temporary and the subsequent crash is harsh. Eating to relieve a negative emotional state is a very common cause for overeating and directly relates to depression. Many individuals use food to cover up their depressive symptoms and heighten their mood as a temporary fix. Studies have shown that comfort food such as food that is high in sugar; salt and fat activate the same reward center in the brain as heroin and as a result produces the same pleasurable effects on the body. Overtime the body craves more of this feeling in order to mask the depressive symptoms potentially resulting in food addiction or binge eating.

By preventing depression with a healthy and nutritious lifestyle, one can potentially prevent the onset of disordered eating, as depression and disordered eating are known to have a cause and effect relationship.