The SMILES Study: Can Food Improve Mood?

In early 2017, the first-ever randomized controlled clinical trial to test a dietary intervention as a treatment for clinical depression was published. The study was aptly called the SMILES (Supporting Modification of Lifestyle in Lower Emotional States) study. While there has been much research looking at the link between the foods we eat and depression, a randomized controlled clinical trial is the gold standard of research. Rather than looking at correlations, an RCT is able to better identify cause and effect relationships.

In the SMILES study, 67 patients with moderate to severe depression were divided into two 12-week parallel group trials. The treatment group received seven 60-minute sessions of dietary counselling. The parallel control group received a matching social support protocol. The vast majority of participants were also receiving either psychotherapy, medications or both.

Participants in the treatment group were encouraged to adopt a modified Mediterranean diet. They increased what I like to call “Brain Food”; whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, lean meats and seafood. They were also encouraged to decrease foods associated with the Standard American Diet – empty carbohydrates, refined starches, and highly processed foods.

In the treatment group, 32% of patients achieved remission, compared with 8% in the control group.

And that’s not the only good news. People got wealthier! Participants in the treatment group saved $104 per month eating the brain healthy Mediterranean diet. Beats depression and saves you money. Chalk up a win for brainfood.

I recorded a vlog with Medscape Psychiatry if you want to learn more about the SMILES study. You can read or listen here.

Photo Copyright: bhofack2 / 123RF Stock Photo

Drew Ramsey, MD

Drew Ramsey, M.D. is a psychiatrist, author, and farmer. He is a clear voice in the mental health conversation and one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using nutritional interventions. He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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