What is Nutritional Psychiatry?
Nutritional Psychiatry is a medically established and evidence-based approach to understanding how the food we eat affects our mood, behaviour and brain function. Although Nutritional Psychiatry is a relatively new field of science, discoveries in this field have already led to significant changes in how we understand and treat mental health conditions. Traditionally, medication has been the first line of treatment in psychiatry but now more clinicians and patients are going beyond the prescription pad and integrating dietary approaches into their treatment. As our understanding of nutrition and digestive health rapidly grows, Nutritional Psychiatry may soon become the future of mental health treatment.
Healthy eating and mental health
Healthy eating is essential for a healthy mind because the impact of nutrition on our mental health is significant. Studies show that a healthy diet can not only help to improve symptoms of conditions such as depression and anxiety, but a healthy diet can also help to prevent people from developing mental health problems. In contrast, eating an unhealthy diet or receiving an inadequate amount of vitamins, minerals and nutrients can increase the risk, or worsen symptoms, of mental health conditions.
Different diets, food groups, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients influence how our body and brain function via mechanisms such as:
- Neurotransmitters in the brain
- Immune system function and levels of inflammation
- Bacteria in the gut microbiome
- Communication between the gut and brain (the gut-brain axis)
- Response to stress (the stress hormone cortisol)
How do diets for mental health work?
Diets for mental health are personalised treatments that involve modifying the nutritional content of your diet to improve mental health and well-being. These interventions require regular testing and the oversight of a psychiatrist, psychologist, and a dietitian or nutritionist, to ensure that any dietary changes are associated with an improvement in the patient’s symptoms and physical health.
Clinicians and practitioners will investigate whether any dietary risk factors could be contributing to, or worsening, mental health issues by looking at a range of different biomarkers, such as:
- Nutritional deficiencies of nutrients that influence neurotransmitter function
- Levels of inflammation in the bloodstream (pro-inflammatory cytokines)
- Food intolerances and allergies
- Gut bacteria (microbiome analysis)
Diets for mental health can also integrate a range of other complementary holistic approaches, such as exercise recommendations, advice for sleeping better, or stress-reduction techniques, such as mindfulness and meditation. The advantage of an integrated and holistic approach is that the health benefits often extend beyond improving mental well-being, as people tend to feel better physically as well.
Did you know that scientists are exploring whether ketogenic diets can be used to treat mental health conditions?