By Alexandra Thompson Health Reporter For Mailonline

Eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains slashes people’s risk of depression by more than 10 percent, new research suggests.

Following the so-called ‘DASH diet’ reduces people’s likelihood of developing the mental-health disorder by up to 11 percent, a US study found.

Those who eat a typical Western diet, which is rich in processed foods and sugar, are more at risk of suffering depression, the research adds.

Researchers add further studies are required to determine the association between diet and mental health, but add simple lifestyle changes may be preferred over medication to control such conditions.

Previous research suggests eating lots of fresh produce benefits people’s mental health by improving their moods, giving them more energy and helping them to think clearly.

Around seven percent of adults in the US suffer from depression every year.

Eating fruits and vegetables slashes people's risk of depression by more than 10 percent

What is the DASH diet?

The Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (DASH) way of eating is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meat, whole grains and fish.

It is low in processed foods, sugary drinks, salt and red meat.

As well as being linked to better mental health, DASH is also promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to prevent and control hypertension.

Previous studies suggest DASH reduces blood pressure in just 14 days, as well as promoting weight loss.

How the research was carried out 

Researchers from Rush University in Chicago analysed 964 people with an average age of 81 every 12 months for around six-and-a-half years.

The study’s participants were monitored for symptoms of depression, such as feeling hopeless about the future.

They also completed food questionnaires, which the researchers used to determine how strictly they adhered to diets such as the DASH, Mediterranean and traditional Western way of eating.

Study author Dr Laurel Cherian said: ‘Making a lifestyle change such as changing your diet is often preferred over taking medications, so we wanted to see if diet could be an effective way to reduce the risk of depression.’

The findings were presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting in LA.

IS DEPRESSION A PHYSICAL ILLNESS?

Depression is a physical illness that could be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, a Cambridge University professor stated in September 2017.

An overactive immune system may trigger the mental health condition by causing widespread inflammation that leads to feelings of hopelessness and unhappiness, the expert believes.

The immune system may fail to ‘switch off’ after an illness or traumatic event, he adds.

Previous research has shown people who suffer severe emotional trauma have signs of inflammation, which suggests their immune system is constantly ‘fired-up’.

Professor Ed Bullmore, head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘In relation to mood, beyond reasonable doubt, there is a very robust association between inflammation and depressive symptoms.

‘In experimental medicine studies if you treat a healthy individual with an inflammatory drug, like interferon, a substantial percentage of those people will become depressed,’ The Telegraph reported.

DASH lowers blood pressure more than medication  

This comes after research released in November last year suggested DASH lowers people’s blood pressure more than medication after just four weeks.

Cutting out salt and eating lots of fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy, reduces people with high blood pressure’s results by an average of 21 mm Hg, the research adds.

To put that into context, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the US’ drug-approving body, will not accept anti-hypertension medications unless they lower blood pressure by at least 3-4 mm Hg.

Most medications typically reduce hypertension readings by between 10 and 15 mm Hg, but come with side effects including fatigue, dizziness and headache.

Study author Dr Lawrence Appel from Harvard University, said: ‘What we’re observing from the combined dietary intervention is a reduction in systolic blood pressure as high as, if not greater than, that achieved with prescription drugs.

‘It’s an important message to patients that they can get a lot of mileage out of adhering to a healthy and low-sodium diet.’

Around 32 percent of adults in the US have high blood pressure, which puts them at risk of heart disease and stroke.