The food we consume has a direct impact on our physical health. This is known to almost everyone. But now some researchers are claiming that our diet has a significant impact on our mental health too.
Is The Food You Eat Affecting The Way You Think?
How does diet impact mental health?
Mental health-related issues affect a large section of the population. At present, a new branch of medicine called nutritional psychiatry is emerging which believes that diet and dietary changes can improve and manage many mental health conditions.
- Another study found that high intakes of red meat, refined sugars, saturated fats, potatoes and low intake of fruits and vegetables increases the risk of depression
- A study found that Mediterranean diets with high intakes of fruits, vegetables and healthy fish can reduce the risk of depression by 32%
But it must be remembered here that these studies are not conclusive research-based experiments to show cause and affect relationships between food and mental health. These studies are mainly observational and show an association between these two factors. A lot more research and investigation is required before it can be claimed that has a direct causative influence on mental health problems.
Can a diet change help manage mental illnesses?
Diet and nutrition as a treatment strategy for mental illnesses is a very new arena of study. The SMILES trials were one of the first scientific efforts to study the effectiveness of diet in treating mental depression.
- The trials were conducted on 67 individuals with severe depression over a 12 week period
- One group of these individuals was subjected to a dietary change along with their regular treatment. They were consuming foods almost similar to a Mediterranean diet.
- The other group was provided additional social support along with their normal treatment regimen.
- At the end of the study, it was found 32% of the subjects who were given a dietary intervention went into remission, while the figure was only 8% for the subjects in the other group
This would seem to suggest that everyone with mental illnesses should just shift to a better diet. But the situation is not that straightforward. In another study conducted the very same year as the SMILES trial it was found that diet could not improve symptoms of anxiety. Some researchers even believe that the SMILES trial was too short-term to make any significant claims regarding nutrition and mental health.
Complicated relation between food and mental health
Scientists have found a relationship between certain vitamins and minerals like Vitamin B6, B12, folate, iron, zinc and magnesium, and mood. Deficiency of these nutrients can cause depressive symptoms and some supplements to correct this deficiency might improve the symptoms. But not all people suffering from depression or anxiety have nutritional deficiencies. For them taking supplements may not prove to be very effective.
Some scientists focus more on the overall quality of diet rather than specific nutrients. They believe that fats, sugars, processed food have inflammatory properties that affect mood. On the other hand, healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains are all rich in anti-inflammatory compounds.
There are many such ideas that relate food habits with mood and behavior and mental health. But all these are basically hypotheses that have not yet been proven.
Mental health is a complicated subject and it has not yet been completely understood. There are different elements like social situations, life events, brain chemistry, and many more factors which are associated with a person’s mental health. The only diet cannot manage these complicated illnesses. Anyone suffering from mental health issues needs to consult a trained professional and follow the treatment regimen recommended for them. A healthier diet can just be a small part of an overall effort to improve one’s physical and mental health.