Could eating fruit more often keep depression at bay?

There is no one individual root of depression – it can appear for an array of reasons, and it has many diverse triggers.

The good news is that a new study wants to help those suffering from this condition.

What causes clinical depression?

For some individuals, a disturbing or stressful life event, like divorce, grief, illness, redundancy and job or money concerns, can be the cause.

Various reasons can frequently merge to trigger depression. For instance, you may feel down after being unwell and experience a traumatic event, like grief, which brings depression.

People usually discuss a “downward spiral” of events that prompts depression. For instance, if your relationship with your partner breaks down, you’re likely to feel low and may stop seeing friends and family and start drinking alcohol more. All this can make you feel worse and initiate depression.

Some analyses have also indicated that you’re more likely to get depression as you get older and that it’s more typical in people who live in complex social and economic circumstances.

Here are some other factors linked to depression [1]:

Alcohol and drugs: When life is putting them down, some people try to manage by consuming too much alcohol or taking drugs and may result in a spiral of depression [2]. 

Cannabis can help you relax, but there’s proof that it can also bring on depression, particularly in teenagers. In addition, alcohol impacts brain chemistry, which raises the risk of depression.

Family history: If a member of your family has had a history of depression, like a parent or sibling, it’s more likely that you’ll also develop it.

Giving birth: Some women are especially vulnerable to depression post pregnancy. The hormonal and physical changes and the added responsibility of a new life can lead to postnatal depression [3].

Illness: You may have a more increased chance of depression if you have a longstanding or life-threatening condition, like cancer or coronary heart disease.

Head injuries are likewise a frequently under-recognised cause of depression. A severe head injury can initiate mood swings and emotional crises.

Some individuals may have an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) from issues with their immune system. In more irregular cases, a minor head injury can harm the pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland at the bottom of your brain that delivers thyroid-stimulating hormones.

This can cause several symptoms, such as excessive tiredness and a lack of interest in sex or loss of libido, which can lead to depression.

Loneliness: Feelings of loneliness yielded by things like being cut off from your family and friends can increase the risk of depression.

Personality: You may be more exposed to depression if you have particular personality traits, like low self-esteem or being extremely self-critical. This may be because of the genes inherited from your parents, early life incidents, or both.

Stressful events: Most people take time to deal with stressful events, like loss or a relationship breakdown. When stressful events like these happen, your risk of becoming depressed increases if you stop meeting your family and friends and try to deal with your difficulties on your own.

New study sheds new light on battling depression

People who eat fruit more frequently report greater positive mental well-being. Plus, they are less likely to report symptoms of depression than those who don’t. This is according to new research from the College of Health and Life Sciences, Aston University.

Released in the British Journal of Nutrition, the investigation analysed 428 adults across the UK. It looked into the association between their consumption of fruit, vegetables, sweet and savoury food snacks and their psychological health.

After considering demographic and lifestyle factors like age, exercise and general health, the research uncovered that both nutrient-rich fruit and nutrient-poor savoury snacks appeared to link to psychological health. They also found no direct relationship between eating vegetables and psychological health.

The survey also established that the more often people consume fruit, the lower they scored for depression and the higher for mental well-being, independent of the overall quantity of fruit intake. Individuals who often snack on nutrient-poor savoury foods were more likely to experience “everyday mental lapses” (also called subjective cognitive failures) and report reduced mental well-being.

A more significant number of lapses was comparable with higher reported anxiety, stress and depression symptoms and lower mental well-being grades.

By contrast, there was no relation between these day-to-day memory lapses and fruit and vegetable intake or sweet snacks, presenting a unique relationship between these nutrient-poor savoury snacks, everyday mental lapses and psychological health.

Samples of these frustrating minor, everyday mental lapses included:

  • Unable to retrieve names of acquaintances whose names were on the “tip of the tongue”.
  • Forgetting the intention of going into certain rooms.
  • Overlooking where objects had been placed.

According to lead author, PhD student Nicola-Jayne Tuck, “Very little is known about how diet may affect mental health and well-being, and while we did not directly examine causality here, our findings could suggest that frequently snacking on nutrient-poor savoury foods may increase everyday mental lapses, which in turn reduces psychological health.”

Additional studies have seen a relationship between fruit and vegetables and mental health. Still, few have looked at fruit and vegetables separately – even fewer assess both frequency and quantity of intake.

As fruits and vegetables are burtsing in antioxidants, fibre, and essential micronutrients that promote optimal brain function, these nutrients can be lost in the cooking process. As we are more likely to consume fruit in raw form, this could potentially explain its more substantial impact on our psychological health.

In addition, it is also possible that changing what we snack on could be a straightforward way to improve our mental well-being. Simply put, it is worth pushing to get into the practice of reaching for the fruit bowl. These results provide new insights into the independent associations between certain types of food and psychological health, as well as the psychological mechanisms that may mediate these [4].

It’s important to note that further work is needed to provide causality and regulate whether these may represent adjustable dietary targets that can directly (and indirectly) influence our psychological health [5]. 

[1] https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/clinical-depression/causes/
[2] https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/teen-marijuana-use-worsens-depression-analysis-recent-data-shows
[3] https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-natal-depression/overview/
[4] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/07/220714145013.htm
[5] https://neurosciencenews.com/fruit-depression-21040/

Photograph: Trang Doan/Pexels

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The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.