Breaking: A New Link Between Nutrition And Mental Health!


By Melissa Pandika | Ozy


For as long as he could remember, Jeff says, “I always kind of wished I would die.” As a teenager, the Northridge, California, native turned to pot and crystal meth, and for years swung between bouts of deep depression and flights of mania. It wasn’t until he was 43 that a psychiatrist diagnosed him with bipolar disorder.

Thanks to meds, today Jeff, who didn’t want his last name used, is stable, self-assured, effervescent even. But a cheaper solution without pernicious side effects might have been hiding in his cabinet that is, his kitchen cabinet. Recent research suggests that eating right might stave off more than heart disease and diabetes; it could prevent mental illness and even treat it. Studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids can lower schizophrenia risk, for example, while nutrient cocktails have lowered anxiety in earthquake survivors. This nascent food-for-thought movement could have major effects for the nearly one in five American adults who suffer from mental illness, gaining them access to treatment without the ugly trade-offs many psychiatric drugs require, like weight gain and listlessness.

Sarris envisions therapists asking clients about not only their moods, but also their sleep, exercise and eating habits.

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Although “alternative” healers have recommended nutrients for years, “the Western medicine community pooh-poohed it for a really long time,” says Eva Selhub, a Boston-based primary care physician and author of Your Health Destiny. That’s begun to change as more scientists dig into so-called nutritional psychology: establishing research agendas, teasing out the links between food and mood and building research institutions. It’s all part of a broader shift toward integrative medicine, which aims to treat not just the illness, but the whole person — mind, body and spirit.

Jerome Sarris, a senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s psychiatry department, finds the historical mind-body schism “stupefying.” In a review article published in The Lancet in January, he writes that nutrition is as crucial to psychiatry as it is to cardiology or gastroenterology. He envisions therapists asking clients about not only their moods, but also their sleep, exercise and eating habits. They might recommend dietary changes or nutritional supplements instead of, or alongside, medication.

The best-case scenario, Sarris says, is that such approaches will take at least a decade to permeate mainstream practice. With medication already available, funding agencies are loath to support research on nutrients, says Julia Rucklidge, a clinical psychology professor at the University of Canterbury. Scientific journals have also hesitated to publish such work, believing “no one would be interested.” Still, at least 11 studies related to nutrition and mental health are currently funded by the National Institute of Mental Health or its integrative health affiliate. And a spokesperson for the New England Journal of Medicine notes in an email that it has published “a handful” of studies on nutritional and dietary supplements.

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Advocates say the time is ripe for a shift in mental-illness treatment. While drug development has vastly lowered the number of deaths due to heart disease and cancer, the rate of suicides — 90 percent of which stem from mental illness — remains at a staggering 41,000 per year in the U.S. “Why are we continuing to see medications as an acceptable and viable way to treat people who have serious mental illness?” Rucklidge says. Researchers predict that mental illness rates will only rise as more people adopt a sedentary lifestyle and sugary, fatty Western diet.

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7 Reader Comments

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  1.' Emma Woodman-Doyle says:

    Sorry, new? Don’t you mean logical and common sense?

  2.' Norbert Scully says:

    No wonder i’m nuts. To many chips with dip.

  3.' Emotional Liberation says:

    “None but ourselves can free our minds.” -Bob Marley

  4.' Jane Conrad-Poulsen says:

    We have known for years that a nutritional diet aids the body both physically and mentally.

  5.' Nissa Rahem says:

    Romana Murad

  6.' Yvonne Jackson says:

    Why am I not surprised?

  7.' Jenn says:

    Right, this is not new. This psychiatrist has been successfully helping patients for 16 years by putting them on broad spectrum micronutrient therapy:

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