Eating Fruits and Vegetables in Midlife May Reduce Depression in Later Years

Greg Howard
30th May, 2024

Eating Fruits and Vegetables in Midlife May Reduce Depression in Later Years

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • A study by the National University of Singapore followed 13,738 Chinese adults over nearly 20 years to examine the impact of fruit and vegetable intake on depression
  • Higher fruit intake in midlife was linked to a lower risk of developing depressive symptoms in later years
  • Vegetable intake did not show a significant association with reduced depressive symptoms
The relationship between diet and mental health has been a growing area of interest, with recent research providing new insights into how dietary habits in midlife can affect mental health outcomes in later years. A new study conducted by the National University of Singapore[1] has examined the long-term impact of fruit and vegetable intake on the likelihood of developing depressive symptoms in late life among a cohort of Chinese adults in Singapore. The study followed 13,738 participants, aged 45-74 years at the start, over an average period of 19.6 years. Researchers assessed their consumption of 14 types of fruits and 25 types of vegetables using a detailed food-frequency questionnaire. Depressive symptoms were later evaluated using the Geriatric Depression Scale when participants were aged 61-96 years. The study found that higher fruit intake was associated with a reduced likelihood of depressive symptoms, whereas vegetable intake did not show a significant association. These findings align with previous research suggesting that diet quality is a modifiable risk factor for mental illness[2]. Nutritional psychiatry has identified various biological pathways, such as inflammation and oxidative stress, that diet can modulate to influence mental health. The current study adds to this body of evidence by highlighting the long-term benefits of fruit consumption in reducing depression risk. Interestingly, the study found that certain fruits, including oranges, tangerines, bananas, papayas, and watermelons, were particularly effective in lowering the odds of depressive symptoms. The protective effect was consistent across different subgroups of fruits categorized by glycemic index, suggesting that the benefits are not solely related to the sugar content of the fruits. The study's methodology involved multivariable logistic regression models to calculate odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs), ensuring that the results were robust and accounted for various confounding factors. This rigorous approach strengthens the validity of the findings and supports the recommendation of sufficient fruit intake early in life to mitigate the risk of depression in later years. Previous studies have also highlighted the economic and social burden of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, especially among older adults[3]. Managing these conditions effectively could lead to significant healthcare cost savings. The current study's findings suggest that dietary interventions could be a cost-effective strategy to prevent depression, complementing existing treatments such as pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy[2][4]. Moreover, the study's results are consistent with trends observed in other populations. For instance, research on secular trends in depression has shown that deteriorating physical health is a significant risk factor for major depressive disorder (MDD)[5]. The protective role of fruits, which are rich in essential nutrients and antioxidants, may help counteract some of these physical health declines, thereby reducing the risk of depression. In summary, the study conducted by the National University of Singapore provides compelling evidence that midlife consumption of fruits can significantly reduce the likelihood of depressive symptoms in later life. This research underscores the importance of dietary choices in long-term mental health and supports public health recommendations for increased fruit intake as a preventive measure against depression.

NutritionHealthMental Health


Main Study

1) Association between consumption of fruits and vegetables in midlife and depressive symptoms in late life: the Singapore Chinese Health Study.

Published 28th May, 2024

Related Studies

2) Nutritional psychiatry: the present state of the evidence.

3) The excess healthcare costs associated with depression and anxiety in elderly living in the community.

4) A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the 'SMILES' trial).

5) Secular trends in the prevalence of major and subthreshold depression among 55-64-year olds over 20 years.

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