Depression is one of the most serious health risks in the modern world. While it doesn’t come close to reaching the top 5 killers (that would be cancer, stroke, heart, lung and liver disease).  It can be debilitating and completely ruinous for the lives of those who are affected by it directly or indirectly.


As such, anything that shows promise for helping reduce or even remove depression is worth talking about, and the aptly named ‘SMILES’ study seems to be providing us with some conversation points.


The idea behind this study was very simple: Two groups with mild to severe depression were randomised to receive one of two interventions.


*  The first group received a course of social support known as befriending.  They underwent a course of social meetings involving conversations which interested the participant and games.  This is a common control method for psychological trials as it is positive.  It engages people in something productive and it allows them to socialise but it does not involve psychotherapeutic methods.


This group basically stood to be sure that the results of the trial didn’t occur simply because  the participants had somewhere to go and someone to talk to.


*  The second group underwent a dietary intervention (lots of complex starches, pulses, vegetables and fruits, moderate lean protein, fish and red meat consumption, eggs, olive oil and limited alcohol).  They were asked to set goals, underwent motivational interviewing and were held accountable.  The diets were ad libitum as this was not a weight-loss trial, however, the participants were focusing on eating healthily, focusing on whole foods and – critically – ENJOYING their meals by making them palatable.


One cool thing is that the dietary group completed the trial a lot more reliably than the control group which had a high dropout rate (93.9 vs 73.5% completers respectively) meaning that the dietary process was engaging for people with depression, and (I would speculate) the process of setting and achieving goals potentially made things seem more worthwhile.


The big result though?  After 12 weeks, 32.3% of the dietary group had achieved remission, compared to just 8% of the control group.  That is astounding!!!


Of course this study didn’t have a HUGE sample size (67) and some other issues which are mentioned in the discussion, but it’s absolutely worth thinking about.


So whether it was due to the goal setting and feeling of purpose, because of the enjoyment of meals, because of the reduction in alcohol or because of the nutrients and impact that reducing processed junk while increasing whole foods can have on neural chemistry, I don’t think it matters.


What matters, is that depression can kill.  If it doesn’t kill, it can destroy lives.


And implementing a goal-focused nutritional strategy that doesn’t focus on body composition but on simply improving nutrient intake just might help.  Not only that, it appears engaging and sustainable for those who take part.


And that, my friends, is pretty damn cool.


Talk soon

-Louise O’Connor

Personal Trainer & Nutrition Coach