Growing Research Connects Nutrition and Mental Health

A new article reviews studies in the field of nutritional psychiatry and how nutrition can prevent and treat mental health issues.

Jessica Janze
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A new article, published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, compiles mounting evidence linking the food we eat and our moods and mental health. The article explores the emerging field of nutritional psychiatry that is increasingly finding evidence of a strong association between a poor diet and mental health issues such as mood disorders and depression. While this field of research is still emerging, initial findings are promising and suggest that nutrition may be an essential part of any approach to preventative mental health.

“The composition, structure and function of the brain are dependent on the availability of appropriate nutrients, including lipids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It is therefore logical that food intake and food quality would have an impact on brain function, which makes diet a modifiable variable to target mental health, mood and cognitive performance. In addition, endogenous gut hormones, neuropeptides, neurotransmitters, and the gut microbiota, are affected directly by the composition of the diet,” write the researchers, led by Roger Adan, a physician and researchers from the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands.

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While the link between physical health and nutrition has been long accepted, some are now suggesting that addressing nutrition may be a useful option approach for treating and preventing mental health challenges as well. Even as most research on the association is still emerging, initial data on the influence of nutrition on depression suggest a strong link. The researchers suggest that addressing nutrition may not be a standalone treatment for all mental health conditions. Still, that nutritional approaches should be an important part of a holistic treatment approach.

The current article highlights several systematic reviews and meta-analysis that demonstrate a reduced likelihood of depression with adherence to diets high in fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains. Further studies have shown similar reductions in depression and improved wellbeing with adherence to the Mediterranean Diet, and others have linked diets high in refined sugars and saturated fats to increased hyperactivity.

The authors highlight the emerging field of nutritional psychiatry, which was born from these promising findings. The field examines diets for specific mental health concerns as well as overall wellbeing. For example, the article discusses studies that found individuals with disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may benefit from rigorous elimination diets. Such studies have demonstrated a reduction of up to one-third of symptoms for children with ADHD.

The field of nutritional psychiatry also examines the role of vitamin and mineral supplements and the importance of the microbiome. “Studies have shown that deficiencies of various nutrients, primarily vitamins, impair cognition. The link is strongest for vitamin B12 (its deficiency causes fatigue, lethargy, depression, poor memory and is associated with mania and psychosis), thiamine (vitamin B1; its deficiency causes beriberi with numbness as CNS symptom and Wernicke’s encephalopathy), folic acid (vitamin B9; its deficiency has detrimental effects on neurodevelopment in utero and infancy; and deficits are associated with a greater risk of depression during adulthood), and niacin (vitamin B3; its deficiency causes Pellagra with dementia as a result).”

While the field continues to understand the role of nutrition in mental health, more research is needed to grasp the full effect. “Current epidemiological data on nutrition and mental health do not provide information about causality or underlying mechanisms… Nevertheless, several studies have reported strong correlations between a healthy diet and mental well-being, which can help to inform future recommendations on diet,” write Adan and the team.

The purpose of the current article is to highlight promising findings and encourage more research to continue understanding the benefits nutrition may have on mental health. “Clear associations between diet and cognitive and mental health in adulthood have been established, but at present, we lack a detailed understanding of the metabolic and cellular mechanisms that underpin these associations.”

This article, as well as ongoing research on nutrition’s effects on mental health, may bring attention to the potential for preventative mental health care at the policy level. The authors also provide a tool that can be used to empower individuals to know more about the connections between their mental health and what they consume. The authors conclude:

“Improved mechanistic understanding of how nutrition affects mental health and cognition will guide the development of new nutritional interventions and evidence-based advice that will promote and maintain brain fitness throughout life. The promotion of dietary habits that lead to better mental health, and the identification and validation of critical individual nutritional components, will improve sustainability in our healthcare systems and reduce the economic costs associated with poor mental health and cognitive decline.”

 

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Adan, R. A., van der Beek, E. M., Buitelaar, J. K., Cryan, J. F., Hebebrand, J., Higgs, S., … & Dickson, S. L. (2019). Nutritional psychiatry: Towards improving mental health by what you eat. European Neuropsychopharmacology.

15 COMMENTS

  1. This may be interesting, as the nutritional approach to “mental” health is oppositional to big-time corporate pharmacology, as well as big-time psychiatry, which have doubtlessly spent millions “proving” your diet has nothing to do with your sanity, compared to the beneficial effects of “antipsychotics” and “antidepressants”. Don’t forget the “minor” tranquilizers.

  2. Currently, scientific research on nutrition is in absolute contradiction with official nutritional recommendations.

    We don’t eat enough fat: the PURE study (Dehghan, 2017), bringing together more than 130,000 people over a median of 7.4 years, studying the mortality and morbidity rate according to the intake of macronutrients, finds the lowest mortality rate in the population quintiles consuming the most fats and the least carbohydrates.

    Thus, all other things being equal (tobacco, physical activity, education, etc.):

    People in the 1st quintile getting a median of 46.4% of their energy from carbohydrates have a death rate of 4.1 per thousand and per year,
    People in the 5th quintile getting a median of 77.2% of their energy from carbohydrates have a death rate of 7.2 per thousand and per year,

    People in the 1st quintile getting a median of 10.6% of their energy from lipids have a mortality rate of 6.7 per thousand and per year,
    People in the 5th quintile getting a median of 35.3% of their energy from lipids have a mortality rate of 4.1 per thousand and per year,

    (page 5)

    For proteins, the optimal amount was around 16.9% (4th quintile), between 16.4% and 17.4%, although there may be an association between protein consumption and consumption of lipids or carbohydrates (fatty meats, dairy products; vegetables…).

    The fact that the mortality rate is lowest in the 1st quintile of carbohydrate consumption and in the 5th quintile of lipids consumption suggests that an even lower consumption of carbohydrates and even higher consumption of lipids decreases mortality even more.

    And indeed, the first graph in Figure 1 on page 7 shows an inverse relationship between lipid consumption and the mortality rate. The mortality rate is the lowest… at the end of the graph, when more than 45% of the total energy comes from lipids!

    In addition, an increased consumption of saturated fatty acids or monounsaturated fatty acids does not increase the mortality rate, on the contrary. It’s just that a very high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids lowers the mortality rate even more. In other studies, it is trans fatty acids that have demonstrated their harmfulness (margarines…), not the saturated fatty acids!

    On the contrary, beyond 55% of energy in the form of carbohydrates, the mortality rate increases in an accelerated way.

    100ml of breast milk contains:

    4.2g, 37.8cal (54%) fat
    1.1g, 04.4cal (06%) protein
    7.0g, 28.0cal (40%) carbohydrates

    By natural selection, breast milk is probably close to optimal for the newborn.

    It gives us an indication of the importance of lipids in human nutrition.

    The optimal share of lipids in human food after weaning is certainly greater than or equal to 45%, probably around 54%, as in breast milk.

    Proteins are of variable quality in human food after weaning: part of the protein is used for anabolism (cell construction) and the other for catabolism (energy): more protein is therefore needed to ensure anabolic needs, and pay attention to their quality. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why, all other things being equal, people consuming more animal proteins have a lower mortality rate; another reason being that a higher consumption of animal proteins is associated with a higher consumption of lipids (fatty fish, fatty meat…).

    In general, the quality of macronutrients is important, and the way they are taken: for example, we know that fibers significantly reduce the harmfulness of fructose (whole fruits…), while pure sucrose, i.e. refined sugar, is very harmful and causes diabetes (Coca-Cola…).

    Dehghan, M., Mente, A., Zhang, X., Swaminathan, S., Li, W., Mohan, V., …Mapanga, R. (2017). Associations of fats and carbohydrate intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 18 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study. Lancet, 390(10107), 2050–2062. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(17)32252-3

  3. All providers AKA ‘dr’s practices defensive “medicine” & misdiagnoses millions under the DSM (without a shred of valid scientific/medical/legal evidence that these people are diseased) as a means of circumventing them from holding the industry accountable if/when it kills or disables them with ‘treatment”.

    One of the many critical points being obscured here, i that BIG “MENTAL HEALTH” is a means of social control and ALSO uses labels to discredit anyone who speaks out if their kids are removed into foster care or they are falsely imprisoned etc.
    Do not be so quick to assume maneuver is benign just because there is actual proof that people have vitamin deficiencies that are well documented to cause symptoms of depression, anxiety, sleep problems that are (duh) miraculously resolved when their “bodies” are provided with the basic building blocks of life giving nutrients they need to survive and which they would not even be alive without.

    “Nutritional Psychiatry” is the latest bid to appear harmless & helpul but is but another disingenuous bid to secure its share of the natural health & supplement industry.

    Its shocking that people actually buy into the notion that well documented medical squalea and symptoms of poor lifestyle, nutrition, can be twisted into “mental illness’s” that the mental health industry should be prescribing vitamins for. Are people really so incapable of mastering the most basic human skill of properly feeding themselves (taking supplements) without relying on a pseudo-professional to manage what they put in their own mouths? Could we be more lost?

    Vitamin deficiencies are vitamin deficiencies, not brain diseases labelled “mental illness’s”.
    Clearly there no end to new and improved “MH” scams & propaganda.

  4. Thank you Jessica.

    The Eureka moment that diet does contribute to functioning.
    Well, whatever. I guess another study to bolster the “MI” theory.
    So a diet of AD’s is not a good nutrition?

    Seems to me that if we took this MI study serious, then theoretically shrinks should first treat their clients with scripts of diets and fresh air.

    talking about diets and using the “MI” word is also the diversion, that keeps politicians from addressing the real issues of conformist schools, below poverty incomes in an affluent society.
    Being at poverty level does not seem to create as many issues in third world countries as they do in affluent countries.
    It seems as long as people have adequate food and housing, but as long as they mostly are all on the same level, is what produces a happier society.
    In affluent society We are always focused on eradicating diseases. Focused on keeping the body alive. There were and still are cultures who do not focus on science and might die younger, but probably die happier.
    We know that many societies did not get sick physically and socially until the “advanced” societies moved in and took over.
    That “advanced society” is still doing the same authoritarian practice, but to it’s own people.
    Because that is the crux of the problem. Pointing the finger and wanting to control, or pronounce others as lesser.
    They simply cannot see how much delusion they are in.

    One thing no one ever wants to talk about, the taboo subject of overpopulation.

  5. We have known almost forever that nutrition and emotional attitude are related. Have you ever tried having a rational conversation with a starving person?
    I can’t quite tell from the context, but the term “nutritional psychiatry” sounds really bizarre to me.
    I know that there must be a portion of psychiatry that hopes to someday redeem itself, and this may be some small attempt to move in that direction. The one thing you can say about vitamin therapy is that it doesn’t totally invalidate the mind-is-brain theory that has been used to justify drugs, psychosurgery and ECT to “treat” mental problems.
    But the fact is that most people who have been successfully using nutritional therapies have become much more interested in the gut biome as a source of numerous non-optimum conditions, “mental problems” being only one type.
    Anyone who tries to treat the mind by treating the brain, no matter what we call them, will get it wrong because that is not a workable model.
    Our main problem with psychiatry, of course, has not been their treatment model but the fact – supported now by long years of evidence – that they don’t really care if their patients get better or not.

    • I can’t quite agree with that last statement. While individual psychiatrists may have some concern over their individual clients, it would appear that psychiatry as a profession not only doesn’t care if their clients get better, they actually fear them getting better because it will cost them too many “customers.”

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