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Does Your Diet Impact Your Mental Health?

Does Your Diet Impact Your Mental Health?

Author: Justin Mckibben

You are what you eat, at least that’s what they tell me. While most associate this common quip with conversations about physical health and fitness, some suggest this one-liner actually has a whole lot to do with your mental health and the fitness of the mind. We aren’t exactly talking about eating your feelings here, but consider the impact what you eat has on how you feel?

There is a rapidly growing body of research and evidence supporting the dynamic relationships between diet quality, potential nutritional deficiencies and mental health. A new international collaboration is collecting all the data it can to support this idea, led by:

  • The University of Melbourne
  • Deakin University

So what does your diet do to your mental health?

Noting Nutrition Conditions

The findings of this collective effort were published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal. In this the leading academics insisted an assortment of medical conditions, psychiatry and public health standards should now recognize diet and nutrition as key determinants of mental health, and begin to implement such aspects into more effective treatment.

The review determined in addition to dietary improvement, evidence now supports the contention that nutrient-based prescription has the potential to assist in the management of mental disorders. So by regulating diets along with supplements or medications treating the symptoms of mental health issues can be much more well balanced and effective.

Studies show that many nutrients have a clear link to brain health, including:

  • Omega-3s
  • B vitamins (particularly folate and B12)
  • Choline
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium
  • S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe)
  • Vitamin D
  • Amino acids

In 2014 there was a systematic review published which also confirmed a relationship between ‘unhealthy’ dietary patterns and poorer mental health in children and adolescents, especially relating to onset for depression and anxiety at an early age. What this data did was point to dietary improvement as a way of preventing the initial occurrence of mental disorders.

Sarris Talks Strategies

Lead author of this most recent publication Dr. Jerome Sarris from the University of Melbourne, a member of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR), concluded that while causes of mental health are complex, the compelling evidence for nutrition as a significant element in the high prevalence of mental disorders suggests that nutrition is as important to psychiatry as it is to other areas of individual health such as:

  • Cardiology
  • Endocrinology
  • Gastroenterology

The ISNPR was founded in 2013 with the purpose of promoting high-quality scientific research on the prevention and treatment of psychiatric disorders by means of nutritional interventions.

Dr. Sarris stated:

“In the last few years, significant links have been established between nutritional quality and mental health. Scientifically rigorous studies have made important contributions to our understanding of the role of nutrition in mental health,”

Dr. Sarris also advocated for additional select prescriptions of nutraceuticals (nutrient supplements) to be included in balance diet strategies where they may be effective. These same supplements have been used in various holistic treatment programs, including drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation.

Sarris believes it is time to promote a more integrative approach to psychiatry, with diet and nutrition as key elements. He is adamant the field of psychiatry is at a critical stage, with the current medically-focused model having achieved only modest benefits in addressing the global burden of poor mental health, which fuels his desire for a more holistic approach.

Diet and Depression

This isn’t the first time we have seen links to diet and conditions such as depression.

Associate Professor Felice Jacka, a Principal Research Fellow from Deakin University and president of the ISNPR noted that many studies have shown associations between healthy dietary outlines and a reduced occurrence or risk of depression and suicide, which she says is in-discriminant across cultures and age groups. Jacka said,

“Maternal and early-life nutrition is also emerging as a factor in mental health outcomes in children, while severe deficiencies in some essential nutrients during critical developmental periods have long been implicated in the development of both depressive and psychotic disorders,”

Other experts claim to supply optimum performance the human brain needs an adequate intake of key nutrients; otherwise this imbalance can only exacerbate other issues in the mind.

The Potential Pay-Off

The exciting part here that has a mass potential to pay-off if we can develop more evidence and prove the connection is the theory of being able to treat or even prevent issues with mental health with more well-balanced and tailor-made diet plans.

Imagine if we could test early on to find what level of risk an individual had for developing a mental health disorder and then we were able to eliminate, or at least decrease, the risk with an outlined nutrition plan. What if by customizing a child’s meals and offering them more support with supplements we were able to help them avoid or overcome anxiety, addiction or depression?

There are some addiction treatment centers that recognize the role nutritional therapy plays in addiction treatment and use this knowledge to help their clients not only to sustain a healthy recovery but also a healthy mind and body.   

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