According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 1 in 10 U.S. adults experience depression. Of those, 1 in 4 encounter serious difficulties in functioning day-to-day. Depression is the most common mental health problem facing older adults. Those who suffer say it makes chronic disease conditions—such as arthritis, asthma, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity—feel much worse.
To minimize the negative impact on quality of life, mental health experts generally recommend medication to treat depression. They say in some cases, like those of severe depression, it can save lives.Yet, the benefits of depression medication are often exaggerated. In fact, recent studies like the Antidepressant Drug Effects and Depression Severity published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) indicate that people with mild to moderate depression taking antidepressants don’t get any more relief from their symptoms than those taking a placebo!
If that weren’t enough, most widely prescribed antidepressants have a history of causing significant side effects. The question remains – do safer, more effective solutions exist? That answer is, yes.
Diet coaching to prevent severe depression
Of course, for years “talk” therapy has been shown quite effective in reducing depressive symptoms, but there is another drug-free solution available. In fact, some of you may remember us saying that no amount of depression medication can make you happy. Instead, you must choose to make lifestyle changes, including healthy eating, in order to more effectively address depression.
Now, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and University of Maryland have made a remarkable discovery in the prevention of severe depression, confirming what we’ve been saying all along. Here’s what happened:
The team set out to see whether a scientifically proven approach to treating elderly adults with mild depression—called the seven-step problem-solving therapy for primary care (PST-PC)—could prevent the onset of full-blown major depression. However, instead of comparing PST-PC participants to people receiving the “usual care” of having no intervention, researchers took the unique approach of comparing them to a group receiving dietary coaching. Then they published their findings in the online journal Psychiatric Services.
In their results, researchers report that discussions with a dietary coach to learn about healthier ways of eating were just as effective as standard “counseling” sessions in preventing major depression among an elderly population exhibiting mild depressive symptoms.
“We were very interested in finding ways to prevent the disease in those we know are particularly vulnerable,” said Charles F. Reynolds III, Professor of Geriatric Psychiatry and senior author of the study. “Avoiding episodes of major depression can help people stay happy and engaged in their communities, as well as reduce health care costs.”
Of course, it’s always a good idea to work with your doctor on matters of health. But if you suffer mild depression that’s starting to interfere with your ability to function normally, you might consider talking with a nutritionist about dietary changes you can make that work as well as standard counseling or dangerous antidepressants in preventing severe depression.