Nutritional Psychiatry

Over recent years, there has been a considerable increase in research surrounding links between psychiatric disorders and diet. As such, there has been a boost in research on nutritional-based treatments for mental disorders. From these studies, different treatment targets have been identified, including the gut biome and nutrient deficiencies. Current research is promising and provides insight into alternative interventions for treating psychiatric disorders. This is the reason why I recently decided to author a book on these issues.

Epidemiological data, basic science, and clinical evidence suggest that diet influences both the risk for and outcomes of mental disorders. There are several potential pathways involved in the association between nutrition and mental health, the most important are the gut microbiome and the mechanisms of inflammation and neuroplasticity. Research results suggest that alterations in the microbial composition of the gut can increase the risk of developing a psychiatric disorder via alterations of the microbiota-gut-brain axis.

Robust research also shows that nutrient deficiencies/insufficiencies are major risk factors for developing mental disorders. This means that dietary modification, and nutrient-based (nutraceutical) prescription has the potential to assist in the management of mental disorders at the individual and population level. Many of these nutrients have a clear link to brain health, including >Omega-3s, B vitamins (particularly folate and B12), choline, iron, zinc, magnesium, S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe), vitamin D, and amino acids. 

The International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR) was formed in 2015 to give guidance to clinicians and healthcare workers on offering nutritional treatments to patients with mental health issues. The ISNPR has issued many recommendations in the last few years many of which are focused on promoting optimal nutrition for the brain via an increase of whole foods and a limitation of processed foods.

What does nutritional psychiatry mean for you? Start paying attention to how eating different foods makes you feel — not just in the moment, but the next day. Try eating a “clean” diet for two to three weeks — that means cutting out all processed foods and sugar. See how you feel. Then slowly introduce foods back into your diet, one by one, and see how you feel.

When some people “go clean,” they cannot believe how much better they feel both physically and emotionally, and how much worse they then feel when they reintroduce the foods that are known to enhance inflammation. Try to supplement with vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids for four weeks and then see how you feel. You may be surprised by the results.

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