Our food choices impact our mood, behaviour, and cognition. The brain is influenced by the nutrients we provide it. Evidence is rapidly growing showing vital relationships between both diet quality and potential nutritional deficiencies and mental health, a new international collaboration led by the University of Melbourne and Deakin University has revealed.
Researchers published in The Lancet Psychiatry, stated that psychiatry and public health should now acknowledge and embrace nutrition and food as important determinants of mental health, much as they do for a variety of medical disorders.
Psychiatry is at a critical point, according to lead author Dr. Jerome Sarris of the University of Melbourne, who is also a member of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR). The current medically focused model has only modestly reduced the global burden of poor mental health.
“While the determinants of mental health are complex, the emerging and compelling evidence for nutrition as a key factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders suggests that nutrition is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology,” Dr Sarris said.
“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,” he said.
Nutrition-based prescription has the potential to assist management of mental health disorders
The review’s conclusions showed that, in addition to dietary improvement, there is now evidence to back up the claim that nutrient-based prescription can help manage mental diseases in both the individual and the general community.
Numerous nutrients, including omega-3s, B vitamins (especially folate and B12), choline, iron, zinc, magnesium, S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe), vitamin D, and amino acids, have been clearly linked in studies to brain function.
“While we advocate for these to be consumed in the diet where possible, additional select prescription of these as nutraceuticals (nutrient supplements) may also be justified,” Dr Sarris said.
Association between healthy dietary patterns and reduced prevalence of depression and suicide
President of the ISNPR and Associate Professor Felice Jacka of Deakin University pointed out that numerous research studies have linked healthy eating habits to a lower incidence of depression and suicide risk in people of all ages and from all cultural backgrounds.
“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,” she said.
‘Unhealthy dietary patterns and poorer mental health in children and adolescents
In late 2014, a systematic review was released which further validated the link between ‘unhealthy’ food patterns and lower mental health in children and teenagers. Considering the early onset age of anxiety and depression, these studies suggest that improving diet may help avoid the early onset of prevalent mental disorders.
Integrative approach to psychiatry, with diet and nutrition as key elements
As an executive member of the ISNPR, Dr. Sarris feels that the time has come to promote a more integrated approach to psychiatry, emphasizing the importance of diet and nutrition.
“It is time for clinicians to consider diet and additional nutrients as part of the treating package to manage the enormous burden of mental ill health,” he said.
Materials provided by the University of Melbourne. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Jerome Sarris, PhD et al. Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry. The Lancet Psychiatry, January 2015 DOI: 10.1016/S2215-0366(14)00051-0
University of Melbourne. “Diet, nutrition essential for mental health.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 January 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150129104217.htm>.
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