By Mayo Clinic Staff December 31, 2018 | 09:01:37 A new study from the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) has found that a diet that emphasizes calming the body’s natural cortisol response may help prevent postpartum depression.
The study is the first to look at the effect of a low-carbohydrate diet on depression, which has been shown to be linked to a variety of health issues including weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
“We have a pretty comprehensive literature on depression and stress, but little is known about how this relates to cortisol,” said Dr. Andrew C. Tarnopolsky, lead author of the study and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at UCSF.
“In our study, we looked at how cortisol is regulated by the diet, and how it impacts depression symptoms in a group of patients with severe depression.”
To do this, the UCSF team tracked over a third of the participants, who ranged in age from 18 to 59.
The study also included women and men who were not experiencing depression at the time of the visit.
The group was divided into three groups, with one group on the low-cortisol diet (LCD), one on the high-collisol diet, or HCD, which consisted of both a low carbohydrate and a high carbohydrate diet, followed by a control group that received a standard diet.
After the study, the researchers measured the participants’ cortisol levels over the next four months, and found that the participants on the LCD had significantly lower cortisol levels than those on the HCD.
These results were significant after controlling for age, gender, and baseline stress levels.
The researchers also found that cortisol levels were also lower in the HCT group when compared to those on LCD.
The researchers concluded that while cortisol levels are not completely correlated to depression, they are correlated with depressive symptoms.
“This is the most robust study to date on how the cortisol response might be affected by the dietary pattern,” said Tarnopsky.
The results suggest that the diet may be able to reduce stress levels in the body, possibly leading to a reduction in depressive symptoms in women who are currently experiencing symptoms.
This is a promising finding, because it could potentially help prevent depression in the long term.
However, there is one more finding that the researchers did not include in their study.
The participants on LCD did not experience any significant changes in their depression symptoms after they discontinued their diets.
This means that there was no benefit of the diets, which may explain why it was not included in the study.
“This could be a little bit of a problem for those who want to go back to a high-carb diet and may not like the change, but it also is important to note that this diet did not seem to affect the mood changes,” said Caryn M. Johnson, a UCSF professor of nutrition and epidemiology.
The findings of this study are significant because it suggests that low- and moderate-carb diets might have potential to help women who suffer from postpartums depression.
“We know from previous studies that there are some benefits to the low carb diet, but the main benefit of this diet may actually be to help people who are already in a depressed state,” Johnson said.
Johnson also noted that the study only looked at women, but other studies have shown that there is potential for the diet to affect men and women differently.
“Our study does suggest that these low- or moderate-fat diets might work in different ways in women and also men,” Johnson added.
The UCSF study will be published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry on December 12.
Follow Mayo Clinic staff writer Julie Zegerman on Twitter: @juleszegerman.