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Nutrition as medicine for mental ill-health

An article recently published in 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 disorders.

Although pharmacological approaches have gone some way to easing the burden of mental ill-health, indicators show that the incidence of mental disorders will continue to rise. This writers point out that forecasts show major non-communicable diseases and mental disorders will 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. This current position, where diets consist of highly processed, nutrient poor, energy dense foods, often means that people are both undernourished and overfed.

The human brain requires a large proportion of energy and nutrient intake as it has a high metabolic rate. It is therefore 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 patters are associated with positive mental health outcomes 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 disorders. Additionally, research has 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 disorders. It is therefore crucial that the dietary factors related to prevention and treatments of mental disorders are clearly identified.

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 “nutritional medicine should be considered as a mainstream element of psychiatric practice”. 1


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