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This Diet Mistake Can Make Your Depression Worse, Science Says

Especially in younger women.

This may sound odd but if you're looking to improve your mental health, you may want to add more beans to your diet. According to a study published online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society, consuming fiber-rich foods (including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes) may be linked to a reduced risk of depression in premenopausal women.

While there are many known lifestyle changes (such exercise, meditation, etc.) that can help ward off symptoms of depression—the leading cause of disability worldwide—this study focused its attention on the connection between depression and dietary fiber intake. Previous studies had noted a connection between fiber and mental health, yet this study is the first to focus on pre- and postmenopausal women. (Related: The One Vitamin Doctors Are Urging Everyone to Take Right Now.)

Researchers analyzed the diets of more than 5,800 females of various ages and life stages through surveys conducted over a four-year period. Results showed that daily dietary fiber intake was higher among the premenopausal females who didn't suffer from depression, indicating a gut-brain interaction.

Interestingly, the same connection was not observed among postmenopausal women. It is believed that decreased estrogen levels are a factor since this hormone affects the balance of gut microorganisms.

"Some possible mechanisms linking dietary fiber and depression include the impact of fiber on the microbiome, which in turn could modify gene expression altering neurotransmitters (such as serotonin) that influence mood and depression," says Katherine Brooking MS, RD, founding partner of the nutrition marketing and communications firm AFH Consulting.

She further adds that inflammation could also play a role. "A high-fiber diet can potentially lower inflammation by modifying both the pH [the level of acidity] and the permeability [how easily matter flows through the intestinal wall] of the gut."

Yet even though fiber—which aids in digestion and keeps the body feeling full—did not appear to affect depression in postmenopausal women, there are other ways this age group can boost their mental health through food. Brooking suggests eating more of other known mood-boosting foods, such as salmon. "Research indicates that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids are linked to lower levels of depression," she continues.

Other dietary options include anti-inflammatory foods (like antioxidant-packed berries), as well as coffee. "Coffee provides numerous compounds, including caffeine and chlorogenic acid, that may boost your mood," Brooking says.

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Amy Capetta
Amy Capetta has been writing articles on healthy living for more than two decades. Read more about Amy
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