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Last Updated on November 18, 2020 by Paula Dunbar
What a unique concept! Usually we equate drugs with psychiatry, not food. This article will address the question, What is Nutritional Psychiatry? and show how diet (and supplements) and mental health are connected. According to Cavaye (2018) in The Conversation article, Why nutritional psychiatry is the future of mental health treatment, mentions that nutritionists have long seen a link between poor mental health and nutritional deficiencies.
Antidepressants are prescribed to try to help with poor mental health but many people shy away from them because of the social stigma. And they often don’t help young people, or can cause young people to feel suicidal. And antidepressants might create dependency and sometimes unpleasant side effects. For some, they don’t work or they have to try different types to see any relief.
Psychiatrists have recently started calling for nutritional approaches to mental health. As Cavaye says, it is now known that inflammation in the brain leads to cell death. And it is also now widely known that certain nutrients like magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, vitamins and minerals that are essential help relieve inflammation and are also helpful for mood, relieve anxiety and depression and improve mental capacity.
Drew Ramsey, MD, a psychiatrist, author, and farmer, is a huge proponent of nutritional psychiatry. He has launched an eCourse titled Eat to Beat Depression on his website. He’s the doctor who started the Kale craze a few years ago. His list of medical training and specialties in psychiatry are quite impressive. If you’re interested, he’s also written a few books, the lastest being Eat Complete: The 21 Nutrients that Fuel Brain Power, Boost Weight Loss and Transform Your Health.
What Foods and Nutrients Help Mental Health?
Interestingly, many of those we’ve talked about here on mywellbrain are the same ones that help mental health and especially depression. Dr. Drew Ramsey actually did a study, published in the World Journal of Psychiatry in 2019, that classifies foods and nutrients in an Antidepressant Food Score (AFS). He and a colleague created this nutrient profile scale to focus on brain health.
He talks about previous studies done on diet and depression prevention, including how the Mediterranean diet could reduce the risk of depression by 30 percent. And another that shows eating refined carbs and processed food products led to worse mental health among children and adolescents.
Here are some of the highlights about specific nutrients Dr Ramsey and his colleague found in their study. I’ll start with the list of nutrients they found critical for brain health:
- Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA)
- Several B vitamins: Thiamine, folate, B6, and B12
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
And now the foods highest in these. It’s interesting that the animal foods highest in these were oysters and other shellfish including clams and mussels. But he says that plant foods also really perform well in this area. They are:
- Watercress – 127%
- Spinach – 97%
- Mustard, turnip or beet greens – 76% – 93%
- Lettuces (red, green, romaine) – 74% – 99%
- Swiss chard – 90%
- Fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, or parsley) – 73% – 75%
- Kale or collards – 48% – 62%
- Cauliflower – 41% – 42%
- Broccoli – 41%
- Brussels sprouts – 35%
Cavaye (2018) also mentions vitamin D3 in preventing and treating depression. I’m a little surprised that Dr. Ramsey doesn’t include it in his list. It has been shown to help depression and prevent it in the first place. Most people are low on vitamin D3 and it’s great for the immune system, so it sure doesn’t hurt to add some to your supplement list.
Dr. Ramsey also mentions adding more good fats, like olive oil and omega-3 oils to the diet. And eat more fermented foods like kefir and sauerkraut to add probiotics. You can also take a supplement.
Where We Are Now
This new field of nutritional psychiatry is bringing hope to millions of people who haven’t had results with antidepressants or just don’t want to go that route. Many are calling for more nutritional education for doctors as the data shows that nutrition is linked not only to physical health but brain health and mental health.
The Western diet undermines our health in so many ways. Did you know that lab animals are fed the Western diet to induce disease for study? Reducing processed foods, adding in more leafy veggies, more fruits, and all vegetables, more good fats, and probiotics will do a lot to help you prevent or even treat depression. And a lot of other conditions.
Of course, if your symptoms are not manageable, seek the advice of your doctor.
I’m very intrigued and hopeful about this new branch of medicine. I hope the new trend continues. We know it’s the right path.
Ramsey, D. (2019). What are the best foods to fight depression? The antidepressant food scale. Retrieved from https://drewramseymd.com/uncategorized/heres-the-1-food-category-to-fight-depression/
Cavaye, J. (2018). Why nutritional psychiatry is the future of mental health treatment. Retrieved July 19, 2020 from https://theconversation.com/why-nutritional-psychiatry-is-the-future-of-mental-health-treatment-92545
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