Have you ever noticed a link between what you eat and how it affects your mood and thoughts? I’m pretty sure a refreshing fruit drink or a nice plate of delicious food boosts your mood and does wonders. On the other hand, if you eat CRAP for several days continuously, you’ll definitely feel cranky, have negative thoughts littering your head and severe mood swings.
The term of Nutritional Psychiatry was recently coined in 2015 and focuses on the development of detailed and strong evidence linking diet and mental health. In recent studies, there is growing evidence that a nutritious and balanced diet may help to cure mental disorders like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, dementia, and ADHD. Recently, the link between a good diet and physical health was quite well-established, but now the link between a healthy diet and good mental health is also on its way to being a strong one.
Protective factors for Mental Health
Let’s discuss what we mean by a healthy diet.
A healthy diet is one that contains a balanced amount of all the nutrients that we require for the proper structure and function of our body. It must contain a proper portion of fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals, fiber and water.
According to researchers, the Mediterranean diet is best for fighting depression and overall physical and mental health. This kind of diet is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, methyl folate and s-adenosylmethionine, all of which help to lower depression. These good fellas can be found in several healthy foods like fruits, vegetables especially potatoes, whole grains, cereals, beans, pulses, nuts, seeds, olive oil, meat, eggs, and dairy products.
A low-calorie diet is also helpful for the maintenance of a healthy mind. Researchers noted in a study that healthy people who reduced their calorie intake by 25% for 6 months also had reduced depressive symptoms. Similar studies show that intermittent fasting helps in relaxing one’s mind and ridding it of depression, anxiety and mood disturbances.
• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates; choosing wholegrain versions where possible
• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks); choosing lower fat and lower sugar options
• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and eat in small amounts
• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of fluid a day. If consuming foods and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar have these less often and in small amounts
|NUTRIENT||EFFECT OF DEFICIENCY||FOOD SOURCES|
|Vitamin B1||Poor concentration and attention||Whole grains, vegetables|
|Vitamin B3||Depression||Whole grains, vegetables|
|Vitamin B5||Poor memory, stress||Whole grains, vegetables|
|Vitamin B6||Irritability, poor memory, depression, stress||Whole grains, bananas|
|Vitamin B12||Confusion, poor memory, psychosis||Meat, fish, dairy products, eggs|
|Vitamin C||Depression||Vegetables, fresh fruit|
|Folic acid Magnesium Selenium Zinc||Anxiety, depression, psychosis Irritability, insomnia, depression Irritability, depression Confusion, blank mind, depression, loss of appetite, lack of motivation||Green leafy vegetables Green veggies, nuts, seeds Wheat germ, Brewer’s yeast, liver, fish, garlic, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, whole grains Oysters, nuts, seeds, fish|
Emerging New Fields
Nutritional Psychiatry: a growing discipline that focuses on the use of food and supplements to provide these essential nutrients as part of an integrated or alternative treatment for mental health disorders. But nutritional approaches for these debilitating conditions are not widely accepted by mainstream medicine.
Nutritional Psychology: the science of how nutrients affect mood and behavior. This field examines the relationship between food and our internal experience, illuminating the biophysiological mechanisms, influenced by our nutrient intakes that underlie mood and behavior.
Nutritional neuroscience: the scientific discipline that studies the effects various components of the diet such as minerals, vitamins, protein, carbohydrates, fats, dietary supplements, synthetic hormones, and food additives have on neurochemistry, neurobiology, behavior, and cognition.
The role of diet in relation to specific mental health disorders
Depression Diet has emerged as a therapeutic approach seen directly in the work of Adult Mental Health Dietitians, who work with people who experience mental health problems to improve knowledge and awareness of nutrition. A recent study exploring the correlation between low intakes of fish by country and high levels of depression among its citizens found that those with low intakes of folate, or folic acid, were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with depression than those with higher intakes. Similar conclusions have been drawn from studies looking at the association of depression with low levels of zinc and vitamins B1, B2 and C, as well as studies looking at how standard treatments have been supplemented with micronutrients resulting in a greater reduction in symptoms in people with a diagnosis of depression and bipolar disorder.
Schizophrenia The Dutch Famine Study and 1960s Chinese famine found that severe famine exposure in early pregnancy leads to a two-fold increase in the diagnosis of schizophrenia requiring hospitalization in both male and female children. Studies have found that people with schizophrenia have lower levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids in their bodies than the general population and that antioxidant enzymes are also lower in their brains.
Dementia Many studies have shown a positive association between a low intake of fats, and high intake of vitamins and minerals in the prevention of certain forms of dementia. One study looking at the total fat intake of 11 countries found a correlation between higher levels of fat consumption and higher levels of dementia in the over 65s age group. A long-term population-based study found that high levels of vitamin C and E were linked to a lower risk of dementia, particularly among smokers, with similar findings in other studies focused on different population groups.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Clinical research has reported the benefits of essential fatty acids and minerals such as iron. Deficiencies in iron, magnesium, and zinc have been found in children with symptoms of ADHD, and studies have consistently shown significant improvements with supplementation when compared with placebo, either alongside normal medication or as stand-alone treatments.
How much role does food play in Mental Health?
If you’re showing concern about what’s on your plate and expect that it is sufficient to support your mental health and cure your mental disorders, you are again wrong. It is just a supporting factor for a healthy mind along with others. A good diet has the added benefit of counteracting the adverse physical health effects associated with many mental health problems and some treatments. Along with a substantially healthy diet, you need to exercise, relax, manage time and stress, etc. we believe that the role of a nutritionist is only to tackle obesity, but we underestimated the potential that food has to cure moods and mental ailments. There is an urgent need for policy-makers, practitioners, industry, people who experience mental health problems and the wider public to recognize and act on the role that nutrition plays in mental health.
To achieve parity between mental and physical health, it is vital that the public is informed about the type of diet that will promote their mental health in the same way food is promoted for physical health reasons. Of equal importance will be understanding the mediating role that mental health plays in our lifestyle choices, including our diet. However, the wider impact can be achieved by national and local policy, well beyond individual actions.
Main source: Wikipedia, mentalhealth.org.uk, health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327335
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Aniqa Mazhar is a graduate of QAU in Biochemistry. She has taught sciences to O levels and is currently planning for her MS in Food Technology. Aniqa’s hobbies are reading, watching movies, writing, calligraphy, long walks, and nature photography.