We all want to have good mental health, but the factors that surround it are complex. Within these, nutrition is crucial and, in turn, is a field of study in psychiatric disorders. Lack of nutrients contributes to poor brain health. This is precisely where the term nutritional psychiatry comes into play.
It is a new field of research that uses food and nutritional supplements in the treatment and prevention of mental illness. Although conventional medicine advocates more for the use of drugs and therapies, in the case of depression, for example, it has been determined that a lack of appetite, sweet foods or skipping meals can influence this disorder.
Therefore, nutritional factors that are intertwined with human cognition, behavior and emotions must be addressed. In this article we show you how nutritional psychiatry is complementary to help improve mental health problems.
How does diet influence mental health?
According to the Nutrititon Journal, 4 of the top 10 causes of disability in the United States and other developed countries are mental disorders. In addition, one of its causes may be the lack of certain nutrients.
Some studies comment that many mental health conditions can begin as an inflammatory response of the gut. Responsiveness is associated with a lack of probiotics, micronutrients, and omega 3s.
Another group of experts reinforce these findings. For example, people with anxiety and depression can improve their mood with supplements of zinc, magnesium, omega 3, and vitamins B and D3 complex.
As for omega 3s, some studies consider that they are essential for the development and function of the brain. Its low levels have been linked to low mood, cognitive decline, and poor understanding.
The use of probiotics has also been explored in nutritional psychiatry. Research has found that taking healthy live bacteria daily can decrease depression and anxiety. In fact, some specialists have coined the term “psychobiotics” to refer to probiotics with a positive impact on mental health.
What is the goal of nutritional psychiatry?
A study on nutritional psychiatry raises certain objectives to address the relationship between nutrition applied to mental disorders. The key challenges for this field of research are as follows:
- Expand dietary intervention in mental disorders, at the clinical and population level.
- Clearly identify the biological causes that support the relationship between nutrition and mental disorder.
- Develop scientific studies that support the effect of key nutrients and psychobiotics in mental illness. Furthermore, your response to treatment needs to be predicted.
- Carry out observational and experimental studies in psychosis focused on diet and dietary treatments.
How should the diet be according to nutritional psychiatry?
Nutritional psychiatry includes a high intake of vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, and seeds, with little or no processed foods. Many studies indicate that the best foods for the brain are those that protect the heart and blood vessels. Next, we mention the most emblematic in this sense.
- Fatty fish: fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines and trout, are a source of omega 3 fatty acids. According to different studies, they can help delay mental deterioration and prevent Alzheimer’s. Another study talks about omega 3s and their antidepressant efficacy.
- Walnuts: according to a research, the linolenic fatty acid contained in walnuts helps lower blood pressure and keep arteries clean. This is good for both the heart and the brain.
- Strawberries and blueberries: the pigments in these fruits are anthocyanins. According to a group of experts, they act as anti-inflammatories and antioxidants that protect against brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases.
- Broccoli and leafy greens: Green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, kale, and other cabbages are rich in vitamin K. Science suggests that the presence of this vitamin may help delay cognitive decline and improve memory.
- Coffee and Tea: Studies show that caffeine can stimulate the release of serotonin, a feel-good substance. In the long term, coffee consumption can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
- Turmeric: Curcumin, an active ingredient in turmeric, is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. A review details the benefits it has on memory, and other experts say it helps against depression.
Importance of the gut microbiome
The gut microbiome refers to the millions of “good” bacteria that live in the digestive tract and play a critical role in health. Currently, there are arguments about the relationship between brain function and the gut microbiota, and the possibility that they influence neuropsychiatric disorders.
The “good” bacteria protect the lining of the intestines and provide a strong barrier against toxins and “bad” bacteria. In addition, they have a bidirectional role between the digestive tract and the central nervous system, called the gut-brain axis.
Nutritional psychiatry: an area in development
Although there is much evidence on the quality of diet and common mental illnesses, it is based on observations. Few randomized controlled trials have been conducted in this regard, especially in clinical groups.
Most studies have focused on analyzing the relationship between diet and depression. But other more serious mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, have been examined to a limited extent.
Despite the fact that psychonutrition is a very young area of research, the use of dietary supplements becomes a complement to improve mental health in all age groups.
It is striking that medical education does not yet include the area of nutritional knowledge for the treatment of mental disorders as part of professional training. As indicated by a group of experts, medical treatment is dominated by drugs (such as antidepressants) and psychiatric therapies. However, they prevent less than half of these diseases.
In this sense, a review suggests collecting the findings from high-quality studies and implementing nutritional psychiatry in clinical practice. This is an important task for the future of this area of knowledge.
An edition published by the Nutrition Society posits that nutritional interventions can significantly reduce the burden of mental illness. They also recommend reviewing strong evidence and bringing communities together to share their findings.
Specifically, research on the immune system, oxidative biology, brain plasticity, and the gut-brain microbiome are suggested as key targets.
If you want a society with more mental health, doctors and psychiatrists must be clear about the relationship of diet and mental disorders. Psychonutrition should be an alternative or complementary therapy.