The Link Between Nutrition And Mental Health

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A study just published in The Lancet Psychiatry states that evidence is rapidly growing that shows vital relationships between diet quality and potential nutritional deficiencies and mental health. 

For the collaboration - led by the University of Melbourne and Deakin University - leading academics claim that as with a range of medical conditions, psychiatry and public health should now recognize and embrace diet and nutrition as key determinants of mental health. In fact, psychiatry is at a critical stage with the current medically-focused model having achieved only modest benefits in addressing the global burden of poor mental health, states lead author Dr. Jerome Sarris from the University of Melbourne and member of the International Society of Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR).

Other Findings 

In addition to dietary improvement evidence now supports the contention that nutrient-based prescription has the potential to assist in the management of mental disorders at the individual and population level.

Studies show that many of these nutrients have a clear link to brain health including omega-3s, B vitamins particularly folate and B 12 choline, iron, zinc, magnesium, S-adenosyl methionine, vitamin D and amino acids.

"While the determinants of mental health are complex, the emerging and compelling evidence for nutrition as a key factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders suggests that nutrition is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology," Dr. Sarris said. "In the last few years, significant links have been established between nutritional quality and mental health. Scientifically rigorous studies have made important contributions to our understanding of the role of nutrition in mental health. While we advocate for these to be consumed in the diet where possible, additional select prescription of these as nutraceuticals - nutrient supplements - may also be justified." 

Sarris believes that it is time to advocate for a more integrative approach to psychiatry with diet and nutrition as key elements. A systematic review published in late 2014 has also confirmed a relationship between unhealthy dietary patterns and poorer mental health in children and adolescents. Given the early age of onset for depression and anxiety, these data point to dietary improvement as a way of preventing the initial incidence of common mental disorders. "It is time for clinicians to consider diet and additional nutrients as part of the treating package to manage the enormous burden of mental ill health," he added.

And many studies have shown associations between healthy dietary patterns and a reduced prevalence of and risk for depression and suicide across cultures and age groups, added Associate professor Felice Jacka, a Principle Research Fellow from Deakin University and ISNPR president. "Maternal and early-life nutrition is also emerging as a factor in mental health outcomes in children, while severe deficiencies in some essential nutrients during critical developmental periods have long been implicated in the development of both depressive and psychotic disorders," she said.

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