SYDNEY, March 19 ― Mental health is a public health issue that's of increasing concern in light of the pandemic. With anxiety, depression and stress, people the world over are feeling the full force of these symptoms, often linked to the virus, to lockdowns and restrictions, and to a period ― and a future ― that's full of uncertainty. But what if fruit could lend a helping hand in keeping mental health on track? A new study from researchers in Australia suggests this could be the case.
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and it looks like the old adage isn't too far from the truth. In recent decades, a wealth of research has shown that fruit and vegetables are good for our physical health ― but that's not all. In fact, they could also help protect us from depressive symptoms. It may be a surprising suggestion, but it's one that could prove incredibly helpful at a time when people ― and young people especially ― are particularly at risk of mental health issues.
Researchers from Macquarie University in Australia have taken a closer look at the subject, reviewing no less than 12 cohort studies carried out in Europe, the US, Japan, Canada and Australia, to investigate a potential association between eating fruit and vegetables and depression symptoms in people age 15 to 45 years.
“Depression is a real problem in Australia. One in four young Australians have mental health issues ― a really high proportion ― so any kind of interventions to alleviate that are really important,” explains study co-author and nutritional epidemiologist, Seema Mihrshahi. Based on this observation ― and the fact that very few young people follow the guidelines when it comes to eating fruit and vegetables ― the researchers sought to determine whether these foods were as beneficial for mental health as they are for physical health.
A potential pathway to protection for young people
In their report, published in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the scientists explain that most of the studies supported evidence that eating enough fruit ― in line with public health guidelines ― is associated with decreased risk of developing depression. However, this observation didn't necessarily apply to vegetables, as fewer studies found an influence of vegetable consumption on depressive symptoms. “We kind of expected it, because fruits have a really high antioxidant content and the vegetables people eat are usually potatoes and the like rather than, say, leafy greens,” the researchers say.
The study also highlights a major problem ― very low consumption of fruit and vegetables among young people, in particular those in the 15 to 18 age group, who are, in fact, particularly vulnerable to mental health issues. The researchers now hope that these findings will help encourage greater fruit consumption among this age group.
The exact mechanisms that may lead fruit and, to a lesser extent, vegetables to potentially protect us from depressive symptoms remain to be determined. These were not identified by the scientists. However, the researchers explain that there is some evidence of an association with certain nutrients and antioxidants present in such foods. ― ETX Studio