Nutrition as medicine: Enhancing mental and physical health
1 March 2015
Dr Jerome Sarris
Alan C Logan
Tasnime N Akbaraly
G Paul Amminger
Marlene P Freeman
Julia J Rucklidge
Felice N Jacka
An article published in the Lancet Psychiatry by members of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research argues that nutrition should be prominent in the treatment and prevention of mental health conditions.
Although pharmacological approaches have gone some way to easing the burden of mental ill-health, the incidence of mental health conditions appears set to continue to rise. The article points out that major non-communicable diseases and mental health conditions are forecast to cost the worldwide economy US$47 trillion from 2014 to 2020 unless action is taken.
Diet is a crucial to both physical and mental well-being. For many people, their diets consist of highly processed, nutrient-poor, energy-dense foods, which often means that they are both undernourished and overfed.
The human brain requires a large proportion of energy and nutrient intake as it has a high metabolic rate, so it’s detrimental to brain structure and function when the diet is deficient in vitamins, minerals, fats and amino acids.
In recent years there has been a great deal of high quality research into the effects of nutrition on mental health. Much evidence has shown that healthy dietary patterns are associated with positive mental health outcome, such as reduced risk of depression and suicide.
Good nutrition is also important for pregnant mothers and infants. There is emerging evidence that severe nutrient deficiencies in the most important stages of development can lead to both psychotic and depressive conditions.
Research has also shown that using nutrient-based supplements (such as omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, B vitamins and vitamin D) may be effective in the treatment of mental health conditions.
This Lancet Psychiatry article stresses the great importance of educating both the public and medical professionals about the impact of diet and nutrition on mental health. There is also an emphasis on the role that the government should take in promoting healthy eating and improving food quality by monitoring the food industry.
The final conclusions were that diet and nutrition have a fundamental role in the treatment and prevention of mental illnesses and that “nutritional medicine should be considered as a mainstream element of psychiatric practice”.
Psychiatrists are finally waking up to the immense importance of nutrient deficiencies in mental health, which was first pointed out by one of our Trustees, Michael Crawford, nearly 50 years ago!