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Popular diet doesn't only reduce hypertension, but risk of depression as well, per study

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The popular Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet was created to lower blood pressure, but new research says it can also reduce the risk of depression later in life.

A study, to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 70th Annual Meeting in April, shows that the popular diet -- rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products and very few foods that are high in saturated fats and sugar -- does more than what has been shown in multiple studies: Lowering blood pressure, bad cholesterol (LDL) and body weight.

“Depression is common in older adults and more frequent in people with memory problems, vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or people who have had a stroke,” said study author Laurel Cherian, MD, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, in a press release.

“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,” Cherian added.

Almost 1,000 adults with an average age of 81 were followed for an average of six-and-a-half years.

They were monitored for symptoms of depression and completed yearly surveys about their diets (whether what they ate was closer to the DASH diet, Mediterranean diet or the traditional Western diet).

The odds of becoming depressed over time was 11 percent lower among the adults who followed the DASH diet more closely. The group that followed a Western diet -- high in saturated fats and red meats, low in fruits and vegetables -- were more likely to develop depression.

What does that mean to older Americans and their families?

That something as simple as your diet can affect you in multiple ways, according to ABC News' senior medical correspondent, Dr. Jennifer Ashton -- something like depression isn’t just happening in the brain.

“We can't silo a condition or body part from the rest of our bodies and our behavioral practices. … We should take a holistic view on conditions such as depression, mood, cognitive decline, stroke, cardiovascular disease and how food, nutrition and dietary habits affect risk of disease.”

It’s never too late in life to change eating or exercise habits; the medical effects of both can be wide-ranging.

“The more we can integrate that, the better,” Ashton said.

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