Nutritional interventions are a generally safe and effective tool for addressing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders, yet dietary changes are rarely prescribed.
The lack of focus on nutrition in mental health may be owed to psychiatry’s slow acceptance of the connection between mind and body. However, a new organization, the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR) is working to bring nutritional interventions into the mainstream.
ISNPR members believe that research evidence and clinical observations suggest our diet influences the risk, progression, and outcomes of mental health disorders. Supported by relevant data, the organization advocates for evidence-based nutritional planning as a low-cost and effective way to improve mental health.
Using dietary modifications to treat psychological issues makes not only scientific sense, but also common sense since our body manufactures mood-regulating brain chemicals from the nutrients we consume.
The mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin, for instance, needs the amino acid tryptophan for its production. If there is a lack of tryptophan in our diet, serotonin levels are diminished—and this applies to individuals taking antidepressants as well.
Antidepressants influence the activity of neurotransmitters, but do not manufacture them. For example, the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) increases our brain’s level of available serotonin, but does not make serotonin. For serotonin synthesis we need to eat foods containing tryptophan, and other necessary nutrients.
Even our intake of trace elements influences our mental health. Research shows a lack of dietary zinc, folate, and magnesium are associated with depression, and an inadequate intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids is linked to increased anxiety. What we eat also alters our gut health, and a growing body of research connects the state of our intestinal bacteria to our psychological well-being.
Though not many mental health clinicians are currently qualified to prescribe dietary treatment strategies that could eventually change since nutrients are the building blocks of our brain chemistry. However, eating a balanced diet of whole, fresh foods is something we can do for ourselves to support optimal-as-possible mind and body functioning.
Source: Tori Rodriguez/Psychiatry Advisor
Photo credit: Olearys