Dietary Interventions for Depression Relief

All of us feel low due to life events, our expectations and emotional states among other causes, and the usual term we use to describe ourselves at that time is, “I’m feeling depressed”.

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Most such happenings or states result in varied feelings including sadness, emotional turbulence and anger, tend to lessen in intensity and go away in a relatively short span of time. When this state persists for a longer duration of time, then the condition could be, depending on a clinical diagnosis, described as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) or Clinical Depression​1​. Click here to read more about the condition.

With 150 million people affected by the condition worldwide, the WHO estimates MDD to be the second global cause of morbidity.​2​

The focus of this article, is the link between

  • Calorie restriction/fasting, such as Intermittent Fasting, and MDD.
  • Quality of diet and MDD

As it turns out, patients of MDD have cause to cheer – calorie restriction and fasting seem to have definite therapeutic effects on MDD, and so do dietary factors, such as overall quality and specific nutritional inclusions. You might also be interested in reading about the MooDFOOD prevention trial.

There’s also a link between Diabetes and MDD​3,4​. As Intermittent Fasting is also considered therapeutic for diabetics, that’s double good news for those suffering from Diabetes.

Having said that, I’m going to list my findings, with references, so you can make up your minds about this possible course of action. If you’re so inclined, I encourage you to visit and read the cited references in detail.

Diet Quality & Related

  • Older adults who received dietary coaching experienced a lower number of depressive episodes, their depressive symptoms decreased by 40 – 50% and these results were sustained over a period of 2 years.​5​
  • Older adults who had a high quality diet had lower risk of depressive symptoms, and vice versa.​6​
  • Brain function can be effected in positive and negative ways by different nutrients. Nutrients with a positive effect include zinc, copper, iron, magnesium and certain amino acids among others. ​2​
  • The Mediterranean diet is linked to low prevalence of MDD. ​2​
  • The consumption of fast food is linked to the development and aggravation of MDD. ​2​
  • Folate and vitamin B-12 supplementation may be beneficial for those suffering from MDD.​7​
  • Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA) supplementation reduces symptoms of depression.​8​
  • Dietary interventions can be a promising means for the reduction of depressive symptoms. ​9,10​

While the above sounds promising, there are studies that have either found no link, or come across conflicting evidence, or have found insufficient evidence to support the notion of dietary interventions as a constructive means of addressing MDD onset or symptoms.

Calorie Restriction & Related

  • I found this to be a very interesting and easy to read article (in contrast to most) and suggest you take 5 minutes to read it. In a nutshell, it says ​11​
    • Alternate Day Fasting (ADF) increases levels of BDNF (Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor) by 50 to 400 percent, low levels of which are associated with MDD.
    • Higher levels of Ghrelin (called the ‘hunger hormone’) are associated with elevated moods.
  • Caloric restriction could be a promising strategy against MDD.​11,12​
  • Energy restrictions enhance stress resistance and prevent disorders promoted by chronic stress, including depression. ​13​
  • Fasting is frequently accompanied by mood improvement. ​14​
  • Evidence shows that caloric restriction could induce anti-depressant like effects (in animal models).​15​
  • Fasting and calorie restriction resulted in significantly reducing incidences of tension, confusion, anger and overall mood disturbances, in addition to observations of improvements in vigour. ​16​
  • Calorie restriction and weight loss in obese women with MDD played an important role in the improvement of depressive symptoms.​17​
  • Autophagy (induced by certain intermittent fasting protocols) may play a therapeutic role in MDD.​18​

My Conclusion: Dietary content and consumption patterns appear to play a significant role in the alleviation of Major Depressive Disorder. Given the low downside of dietary and supplemental interventions, the conclusions drawn by the studies above, in addition to the anecdotal evidence I have encountered, I believe we should give dietary intervention a shot in helping those with MDD.


  1. 1.
    Legg TJ. Major Depressive Disorder (Clinical Depression). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/clinical-depression. Published June 27, 2017.
  2. 2.
    Popa T, Ladea M. Nutrition and depression at the forefront of progress. J Med Life. 2012;5(4):414-419. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23346242.
  3. 3.
    Holt R, de G, Golden S. Diabetes and depression. Curr Diab Rep. 2014;14(6):491. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24743941.
  4. 4.
    Andreoulakis E, Hyphantis T, Kandylis D, Iacovides A. Depression in diabetes mellitus: a comprehensive review. Hippokratia. 2012;16(3):205-214. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23935284.
  5. 5.
    Stahl S, Albert S, Dew M, Lockovich M, Reynolds C. Coaching in healthy dietary practices in at-risk older adults: a case of indicated depression prevention. Am J Psychiatry. 2014;171(5):499-505. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24788282.
  6. 6.
    Gomes A, Oliveira B, Gonçalves S, et al. Interrelatioship between Diet Quality and Depressive Symptoms in Elderly. J Nutr Health Aging. 2018;22(3):387-392. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29484352.
  7. 7.
    Young S. Folate and depression–a neglected problem. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007;32(2):80-82. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17353937.
  8. 8.
    Ross B, Seguin J, Sieswerda L. Omega-3 fatty acids as treatments for mental illness: which disorder and which fatty acid? Lipids Health Dis. 2007;6:21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17877810.
  9. 9.
    Firth J, Marx W, Dash S, et al. The Effects of Dietary Improvement on Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety. Psychosomatic Medicine. April 2019:265-280. doi:10.1097/psy.0000000000000673
  10. 10.
    Molendijk M, Molero P, Ortuño S-P, Van der, Angel M-G. Diet quality and depression risk: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. J Affect Disord. 2018;226:346-354. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29031185.
  11. 11.
    Dave A. Could Skipping Breakfast Relieve Depression? PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/lib/could-skipping-breakfast-relieve-depression/. Published October 8, 2018.
  12. 12.
    Zhang Y, Liu C, Zhao Y, Zhang X, Li B, Cui R. The Effects of Calorie Restriction in Depression and Potential Mechanisms. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2015;13(4):536-542. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26412073.
  13. 13.
    van Praag H, Fleshner M, Schwartz MW, Mattson MP. Exercise, Energy Intake, Glucose Homeostasis, and the Brain. Journal of Neuroscience. November 2014:15139-15149. doi:10.1523/jneurosci.2814-14.2014
  14. 14.
    Fond G, Macgregor A, Leboyer M, Michalsen A. Fasting in mood disorders: neurobiology and effectiveness. A review of the literature. Psychiatry Research. October 2013:253-258. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2012.12.018
  15. 15.
    Manchishi S, Cui R, Zou X, Cheng Z, Li B. Effect of caloric restriction on depression. J Cell Mol Med. 2018;22(5):2528-2535. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29465826.
  16. 16.
    Hussin NM, Shahar S, Teng NIMF, Ngah WZW, Das SK. Efficacy of Fasting and Calorie Restriction (FCR) on mood and depression among ageing men. J Nutr Health Aging. May 2013:674-680. doi:10.1007/s12603-013-0344-9
  17. 17.
    Vaghef-Mehrabany E, Ranjbar F, Asghari-Jafarabadi M, Hosseinpour-Arjmand S, Ebrahimi-Mameghani M. Calorie restriction in combination with prebiotic supplementation in obese women with depression: effects on metabolic and clinical response. Nutritional Neuroscience. June 2019:1-15. doi:10.1080/1028415x.2019.1630985
  18. 18.
    Gassen NC, Rein T. Is There a Role of Autophagy in Depression and Antidepressant Action? Front Psychiatry. May 2019. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00337

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