You are what you eat
The link between diet and overall health is obvious, but have you ever wondered how your diet can affect your mental health? Well, recent evidence from nutritional psychiatry suggests that a person’s diet can do just that.
What is nutritional psychiatry?
I have always been interested in how we can improve mental health. Having experienced anxiety myself in my teenage years, mental health has always been important to me.
A new, emerging field called nutritional psychiatryis aimed to help target mental health problems. It does this by looking at the relationship between mental health and food.
How are food and mental health related?
Research has shown that the gut is linked to mental health and mood. Serotonin, a molecule used to regulate mood, has 95% of its production in the human gastrointestinal tract. This means serotonin effects both food digestion and absorption but can also affect a person’s mood.
Studies have shown that specific food groups can have a negative effect on mental health. For example, diets high in carbohydrates can lead to depression as well as diets with a lot of processed sugar.
Why do we care?
For depression, treatment should be the main focus, but medications are often not effective. A professor named David Healy found that in 29 clinical trials using antidepressant medications in young people, drugs were often ineffective or subjects continued to feel suicidal.
Because medication can sometimes be unreliable, treating the body with a better diet might be an additional therapy to consider. Eating lots of fruit, vegetables and protein foods can help reduce depression symptoms.
Nutritional supplements could be more advantageous for improving mental health than medication. For example, a study using magnesium citrate in depressed patients alleviated depressive and anxiety symptoms.
There is also evidence for omega-3 fatty acids in treating mood disorders. However, research suggests that these supplements can’t be used alone for treatment. So, there needs to be a focus on if taking supplements in combination with other therapies can help.
Hope for the future?
There is so much research about the negative effects of food on a person’s overall health. Sometimes it seems that there is less focus on how food improves our health. This is what makes nutritional psychiatry exciting. It is looking at how food can change mental health for the better. If I knew I could eat healthier to help improve my mental health as a teenager, I would’ve avoided eating junk food.
But there is more work to be done. Studies should be looking at whether changing a person’s diet could completely replace the effects of medication. Or whether diet and medication when together are better at treating mental health problems. These questions need to be asked.
We should also develop studies to examine diet and age. Based on their age, people could have different responses to diet-based interventions.
The field could be a real game changer in mental health. It would be great if we could not have to take pills to feel better. We could just change what we eat.
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