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Food quality and recurrent episodes of depression

Depression is a common multifactorial condition in which the appearance of symptoms is often linked to patients’ lifestyle. Of these factors, nutrition appears to play a significant role. Studies performed in a collaborative project between INSERM researchers in Montpellier and at University College London suggest than an improvement in the quality of nutrition is associated with a reduction in the recurrence of episodes of depression, particularly in women. These results have been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

For the research, researchers at Unit 1061 “Neuropsychiatrie : recherche epidemiologie et clinique” (INSERM/University of Montpellier) and University College London analysed ten years’ worth of data (1993-2003), in 4215 civil servants in the Whitehall II cohort working in London. The quality of their food intake was scored against the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI)[1].

The quality of nutrition for female participants in the study (and whether they complied with the food recommendations of the AHEI) over 10 years was associated with the recurrence of symptoms of depression measured five years later. This correlation was not found in men. The originality of the study lies in the analysis of data repeated over time, making it possible to study the direction of movement of the nutritional relationship and symptoms of depression.

“We observed that an improvement or maintenance by the participants of their AHEI score over a ten-year period of monitoring reduced the risk of their developing recurrent symptoms of depression by 65% in comparison with women having a low score”, explains Tasnime Akbaraly, head of research at INSERM and co-author of the study. “The results suggest that following the nutritional recommendations of the AHEI throughout an adult’s lifetime would make it possible to reduce the recurrence of episodes of depression,” concludes the researcher.

[1]The AHEI score is based on a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts, soya, fibre, trans fatty acids, the proportion of white meat to red meat, the ratio of polyunsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acids, alcohol consumption and the long-term consumption of multivitamins.

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Researcher Contact

Tasnime Akbaraly
Chargée de recherche Inserm Unité 1061 “Neuropsychiatrie : recherche épidémiologique et clinique”
04 99 61 46 94

Press Contact

Juliette Hardy


Adherence to healthy dietary guidelines and future depressive symptoms: evidence for sex differentials in the Whitehall II study

Tasnime N. Akbaraly 1,2,3, Séverine Sabia 1, Martin J Shipley 1, G. David Batty 1, 4, Mika Kivimaki1

1 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, WC1E 6BT London, United Kingdom
2 Inserm U 1061, Montpellier, F-34093 France
3 University Montpellier I, F-34000 Montpellier, France
4 MRC Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

American Journal of clinical nutrition, online first, janvier 2013