This is a guest post from Ulka Agarwal, M.D.
As a psychiatrist, my patients often ask me if there are dietary changes they can make to improve their depression. Many cannot tolerate antidepressants, don’t benefit from them, or are reluctant to try medications or seek counseling due to stigma. As a result, they miss an average of 19 work days per year, costing employers up to $44 billion dollars a year in lost productivity. Depression can aggravate other chronic illnesses as well, like diabetes and heart disease. We know that plant-based diets prevent and even treat these chronic illnesses, but can they also improve mood? Our recent study published in the March/April issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion demonstrates how a plant-based nutrition program improves not only depression, but anxiety, fatigue, productivity, and other markers of well-being.
This 18-week study analyzes the health benefits of adopting a plant-based vegan diet in a corporate setting. Study participants, GEICO employees who were either overweight or struggling with type 2 diabetes, adopted a low-fat vegan diet, favoring high-fiber, low-glycemic foods. They learned about preventive nutrition and new cooking tips through weekly “lunch and learn” sessions led by a clinician or cooking instructor. They also formed bonds, sharing helpful health tips along the way and connecting with the group on a daily basis through an online forum. Study participants alleviated symptoms of anxiety, depression, and fatigue, and improved their productivity both at work and outside of work, according to the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36) and the Work Productivity and Activity Impairment Questionnaire (WPAI):
They also lost an average of 10 pounds, lowered LDL cholesterol levels by 13 points, and improved blood sugar control, if they had type 2 diabetes. When people improve their physical health they become more physically and socially active and their overall quality of life improves.
How does a plant-based diet improve depression? Depression is related to inflammation in the body and low levels of serotonin. Plant-based foods naturally lower inflammation in the body because they are naturally low in fat and high in antioxidants. High vegetable intake increases the amount of B vitamins in the diet, which have been found to affect mood.
So what are you waiting for? Jump right in with a low-fat, plant-based diet! It’s the best prescription to boost your mood, energy, and productivity, while reducing your risk for chronic illnesses. I know I’ll be prescribing a plant-based diet to all of my patients for their emotional and physical well-being. To learn more about the study, visit the American Journal of Health Promotion.
About Ulka Agarwal, M.D.
Ulka Agarwal, M.D., is the lead physician and psychiatrist at California State University, East Bay, where she developed and leads a plant-based employee wellness nutrition program. Dr. Agarwal is the former chief medical officer for the Physicians Committee and a graduate of Dr. Andrew Weil’s Integrative Medicine Fellowship through the University of Arizona.