Harvard Doctors Discover a Link Between a Certain Type of Diet, Depression, and Frailty

Depression Sad Old Man

An inflammatory diet often has a low intake of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods while having a high consumption of commercially baked goods, fried foods, and fatty meats.

The impact of dietary inflammation on the development of frailty and other health problems may be more pronounced in middle-aged and older people who are depressed.

According to recent research published in The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, there is a link between depression, diet, and the development of frailty. Frailty affects 10-15% of elderly adults and often co-occurs with other medical conditions, such as depression. It is characterized as an identifiable state of heightened vulnerability brought on by a loss in function across multiple physiological systems.  The development of frailty is thought to be significantly influenced by diet.

Previous studies have shown a correlation between an inflammatory diet, which includes artificial trans fats (like partially hydrogenated oil), refined carbohydrates, and saturated fats, and the risk of developing frailty. However, this is one of the first studies to attempt to understand the impact of depression on dietary inflammation and frailty.

The researchers hoped to determine if those who experience depressive symptoms are more prone to developing frailty in response to dietary inflammation. The Framingham Heart Study Offspring cohort provided the data used in the study. The 1,701 non-frail individuals provided information on their diet and depressive symptoms at the start of the study. They were followed for about 11 years when frailty status was reassessed.

The research discovered a link between an inflammatory diet and an elevated risk of frailty, which was somewhat greater among individuals with depressive symptoms. Researchers believe that since people who experience depressive symptoms often have greater levels of inflammation, adding dietary inflammation on top of that might hasten the onset of frailty.

Courtney L Millar, Ph.D., Post-Doctoral Fellow, Marcus Institute of Aging Research, Hebrew SeniorLife, and Harvard Medical School, is the lead author. “This study found that depressive symptoms may exacerbate the development of frailty in response to consuming an inflammatory diet. This suggests that consuming a diet rich in anti-inflammatory compounds (e.g., fiber and plant-based compounds called flavonoids) may help prevent the development of frailty,” Dr. Millar said.

“Our exploratory data also suggests that when middle-aged and older adults consume a pro-inflammatory diet, they are more likely to newly develop depressive symptoms and frailty at the same time rather than develop either condition alone,” she added.

This research follows two prior studies conducted by Dr. Millar, one published in May 2022 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that showed that consuming a Mediterranean-style diet may prevent the development of frailty, and one published in February 2022 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that showed a pro-inflammatory diet increased the risk of frailty development.

“This study contributes to the understanding of the relationship between dietary inflammation, depression, and frailty,” Dr. Millar said. “For those with depression, it may be even more important to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables that are rich in fiber, flavonoids as well as other dietary antioxidants.”

Reference: “Association of Proinflammatory Diet With Frailty Onset Among Adults With and Without Depressive Symptoms: Results From the Framingham Offspring Study” by Courtney L Millar, Ph.D., Alyssa B Dufour, Ph.D., James R Hebert, DSc, Nitin Shivappa, Ph.D., Olivia I Okereke, MD, MS, Douglas P Kiel, MD, MPH, Marian T Hannan, DSc, MPH and Shivani Sahni, Ph.D., 13 July 2022, Journal of Gerontology.
DOI: 10.1093/gerona/glac140

The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging, the Beth and Richard Applebaum Research Fund, and the Boston Claude D. Pepper Center OAIC. 

22 Comments on "Harvard Doctors Discover a Link Between a Certain Type of Diet, Depression, and Frailty"

  1. Fruit should be restricted due to its high sugar content. Carbs are pro inflammatory not fats

  2. Most fruit is ok due to the fiber content, anti-inflammitory flavonoids, and the fact that the sugars are mostly contained in the cells so they are slowly released.

  3. Always lumping fatty meat in with junk food.
    People eating meat, fruit and vegetables with no junk food are not weak, sick or frail.

    Every bit of evidence that aims to show harm from eating meat is always from epidemiological studies of people on junk food diets.

    People eating fast food burgers, on bread rolls full of processed and artificial ingredients, with sugar and oil laden condiments, potatoes fried in oil, sugary sodas, and out of all those garbage ingredients, you wanna blame the only source of complete protein and B12 in that mess of a meal?

  4. Fruit contains polyphenols, which are very anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Polyphenols are extremely important for longevity.

  5. Frailty is due to depression in these cases. Not diet. The depression makes it difficult to wake, to get out of bed, to even walk. Gaits become unsteady, shaky.Breathing is ragged. The deeper the depression the weaker the patient seems and will feel.
    Diet will have little effect as these patients can’t care enough to feed themselves anything requiring thought or preparation. Treat the depression. The patient will not thrive until they are treated for depression
    Diet is only a temporary stopgap

    • Totally agree. I’m 46 and remember being depressed since i was 6. Yes, diet slightly helps, but taking a hand full of drugs (to help with bipolar2) I believe also dont help fighting inflammation. Seems to only make it worse. I love my fruit and vegetables, but when i do low carb diets, it triggers my depression. Big difference between good and bad carbs. Peas/bread.

  6. This is like the “Which came first: the chicken or the egg? or the continuous loop. Are people making bad food choices because they are depressed or are they depressed because they made bad food choices? How will we ever really know?

  7. People are not getting fat off fruit, so that’s not a real issue. If Americans, in particular,seriously cut down on fast foods, sweets, sugary drinks, fried foods,and processed foods; they could eat all these fruits with no problem.

  8. Bette Jane Geraghty | September 3, 2022 at 6:45 am | Reply

    I totally agree with Anne West. I am 83 years old and fighting my way through what I believe is depression, I can’t seem to make myself DO things when I know I really MUST do things to keep myself going. Literally.I am now setting a timer so that I move and do something every hour. A short walk, some stretch exercises, make coffee, go to library,water plants,etc. I have killed a lot of herbs in the last few years. I do make sure I eat healthy foods and cook batches and freeze in 1-2 cup portions. Thank goodness I love to cook so when I get myself going I cook. Always healthy food. Must KEEP ON MOVING!!! It’s not easy.

  9. As a depression sufferer, I can see that depression, by itself, would almost certainly increase frailty in older people.
    Depressed people often aren’t as active, because it’s much harder to be when one is depressed?
    When one gets older, muscle wasting due to inactivity becomes a much greater issue.
    …I personally have gone through more severe spells of depression, then they lift a little. I then have to struggle back to where I was, physically. This throughout my life.
    Eating extremely healthy does seem to help matters a bit.

  10. Can’t afford to eat good food and can’t afford to purchase them often

  11. Tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini squash are all high inflammatory foods. Got to state the facts..

  12. Robert E Anderson | September 3, 2022 at 12:16 pm | Reply

    Fasting is a way out of depression, eating junk food is addictive behavior because it gives a temporary reward. Then one gets overweight and depressed because one doesn’t feel like doing anything. Fasting is a way to regain control, there are positive hormonal effects that keep one from being depressed during fasting.

  13. Fruit is toxic to the body outside of one piece a day. Sugars from fruits break down the same as alcohol. It creates ROS (reactive oxidative stress) in your liver which leads to chronic inflammation. Your best source of fruit is a good Powder Super Reds product. Sugar is the root of cancer and disease, right next to all processed junk. The most powerful anti-inflammatory our body can break down and use is a liposomal form of Astaxanthin. Just google: “NIH Astaxanthin xxx(any disease, cancer, etc.),” and you will find that the National Institute of Health has over a thousand published articles showing that most issues stem from chronic inflammation and Astaxanthin is the cure. Valasta is my favorite product. I suggest everyone get their CRP and hs-CRP levels checked. It’s a cheap $45 test without insurance. This is the best inflammation marker in your body. Get your hs-CRP under 3, and you will live a long life and stop and reverse cancers and diseases in your body.

  14. Dr. Robert Jamieson | September 3, 2022 at 1:05 pm | Reply

    Homo sapiens evolved, co-evolved for five million years prior to domestication and agriculture . Diet and morpho-physiology of the digestive system including enzymes should not be ignored when attempting to understand human nutrition. Humans probably fasted albeit unintentionally.
    In addition, comparative mammalian digestive physiology should increase our understanding of physiology, ecology and diet. Disease models may be of limited, even misleading value. The information from the food industry might be susceptible to profits over science.

  15. MIND OVER MATTER! & YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT! Are very true quotes.

  16. Patricia Hayden | September 4, 2022 at 6:06 am | Reply

    As a 69 year-old female who is strong as a horse. I’ve eaten crappy fast food all my life especially in my younger life. I did drugs in the 60s and 70s. I never exercised. I feel really great today and every day. I look at other 60 somethings and I’m blown away by how bad they look. My skin is firm my neck is firm. I have hardly any wrinkles a few under my eyes and my eyes are hooded. I’m overweight tho I eat much better now than I used to but I still have a sugar thing. People think my son is my boyfriend or husband when we’re out and about together he’s 46. People ask me all the time how I look 20 years younger. I don’t know I know both of my parents are still alive and almost 90. I know my attitude is pretty chill and calm. I’m a good person. I love life. I love all the world. I look forward to the future. I have a few regrets but I don’t dwell on them. I forgive myself and forgive others so my heart is very light. I fear for the future of the planet but I don’t think it’s all gloom and doom. I think mankind will pull it out and everything will be fine. I believe I will reincarnate into a better person next time.

  17. I have discovered that too much soy and estrogen can make you a liberal.

  18. Love tumeric breath | September 4, 2022 at 4:59 pm | Reply

    They say fruit day keeps docs at bay. Hence reason for bayleaves as being tremendous for inflammation? Lots of tumeric ginger garlic pepper bayleaf aka indian diet, that my friends, will keep senility away.

  19. I can’t believe the subject of spirituality is being left out here. There are spirits and demonic influences that can cause depression, suicidal thoughts, and even frailty. What are you feeding your eyes and mind is really the question. Though I believe diet is important failing to overlook the spiritual is a battle lost.

  20. I am in my early 80s. 6′ 160. Very active physically. Non smoker and no alcohol.I eat lean cuts of beef(small portions) chicken and fish for protein. Also whole grains, nuts, seeds and fresh fruit daily. I do all of my own general home and yard maintenance and walk at a good pace for exercise. My only meds are minimum dose of a statin and a minimum dose of a blood pressure med. Not obsessed with longevity, just want to be as healthy and active as possible for whatever time I have left. In my opinion a preventative lifestyle is much preferable than corrective medicines and treatments. Friends like to say I am blessed. I prefer to say I am disciplined.

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