Nutrition for Mental Health

According to the Mental Health Commission in Australia adequate mental health is “a sense of wellbeing, confidence and self-esteem”. It enables us to fully enjoy and appreciate other people, day-to-day life and our environment. This allows us to deal with life’s challenges, use our abilities to reach our potential and form healthy relationships.

Fact: One in Five Australians suffer from a mental illness every year such as bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Fact: Along with high blood pressure, depression is the number one cause of early death

Now I don’t know about you, but I am a pretty proactive and happy person who sees that there is much joy for many of us to experience in a lifetime. Sure the rollercoaster of life is going to present its challenges but I’d like to think we could learn, grow and overcome many of our obstacles. Easier said then done.

Working as Dietitian’s we have a phenomenal opportunity to influence our client’s lives in positive ways to improve their enjoyment of their lives.

One example that comes to mind is an old client of mine who gave up his addictive drinking, started eating healthily and lost weight. Not only did he then have a huge improvement in his health, but also increased energy and productivity, an improved relationship with his wife and most noticeably never hung over and missing his kid’s soccer games on a Saturday ever again.

When it comes to mental health nutrition can be a powerful influencer.

Here are a couple of examples of foods that support mental health:

Omega-3: Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated fat that is commonly found in fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, ocean trout and sardines. It can also be found in nuts and seeds, some of the highest sources being flaxseeds and walnuts.

B Vitamins (Includes folate): Sources of folate include dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and asparagus, as well as legumes and lentils. Folate plays a crucial role in healthy brain development. It also helps to form red blood cells and produce DNA.

Zinc: Deficiencies in zinc in both men and women has been associated with a greater incidence of depression (Vashum KP et al 2014). Zinc can be found in lean meats such as beef, oysters, whole grains and seeds (particularly pumpkin and sesame).

Probiotics for a healthy gut: Modulation of gut microbiota may prove to be a therapeutic target for the treatment and/or prevention of mood and anxiety disorders. A recent randomised control trial (Steenbergen L 2015) has stated that “participants who received the 4-week multispecies probiotics intervention showed a significantly reduced overall cognitive reactivity to sad mood, which was largely accounted for by reduced rumination and aggressive thoughts.”

Although this is emerging research, I would not be surprised if we see more studies proving the same. We already know that the gastrointestinal tract can activate neural pathways and central nervous system signalling systems in the brain.

 Mental Health for children and adolescents: Nutrition in early life

Emerging research suggests that early in the lifespan a healthy diet has an important relationship with mental health risks. This is especially because the onset of anxiety and mood disorders is on average from age 13-16 years.

A recent systematic review that included 12 studies (Adrienne O’Neil et al in 2014) found evidence of a significant cross-sectional relationship between unhealthy dietary patterns and poorer mental health in children and adolescents.

In align with the above research this study also noted that diets of a poorer quality were missing essential nutrients that played a role in mental health:

  • The dietary intake of folate, zinc, and magnesium were inversely associated with depressive disorders
  • Dietary long-chain omega-3 fatty acids were inversely related to anxiety disorders

Of mention physical activity here also played a significant role and was positive for mental health.

Take home message:

Everybody deserves the right to good mental health and a happy life. If you feel like you could benefit from increased mood or mental health support with nutrition, then we would be more than happy to support you in our clinic at Body Fusion.

References:

J Affect Disord. 2014, Dietary zinc is associated with a lower incidence of depression: findings from two Australian cohorts. Sep;166:249-57. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.05.016. Epub 2014 May 23.

Steenbergen L1, Sellaro R2, van Hemert S3, Bosch JA4, Colzato LS5, A randomized controlled trial to test the effect of multispecies probiotics on cognitive reactivity to sad mood. Brain Behav Immun. 2015 Aug;48:258-64. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2015.04.003. Epub 2015 Apr 7.

O'Neil A1, Quirk SEHousden SBrennan SLWilliams LJPasco JABerk MJacka FN. Relationship between diet and mental health in children and adolescents: a systematic review. Am J Public Health. 2014 Oct;104(10):e31-42. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302110.