Eating to Improve Mental HealthPosted: Nov 05 in Health And Wellness, Nutrition by Dr. Lazarus
For decades, medical journals have reported effects of certain types of diets on medical problems. For example, we know that ketogenic diets can reduce seizures in children with epilepsy, and that Mediterranean diets can reduce the risk of heart disease.
People are experiencing heightened levels of stress, anxiety, insomnia, hopelessness and depression. Is there any medical evidence that how we eat can improve our mood?
Investigators with the Nutrition Network of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology reported that the Mediterranean diets can help prevent depression and anxiety. Mediterranean styles of eating include lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts, olive oil, beans, and whole grains. The plants are the center of these eating styles, with limited quantities of poultry, eggs and seafood.
There are countless studies looking at vitamins and their effects. The strongest link is between B12 and fatigue, lethargy, and depression. There is also a strong link between niacin deficiency and dementia. Vitamin D supplementation has conflicting results (although a low vitamin D level has been associated with an increased risk of adverse health outcomes from COVID-19).
So, should you take a multivitamin? Again, the risks are low, and for some people there can be a nice benefit; however, the foundation should be a healthy eating plan! If vitamin D deficiency is found, it should be corrected. And, a discussion with your doctor about testing / treating B12 discussion may be warranted if you have risk factors for B12 deficiency and unexplained lethargy.
There is also some evidence that the supplement Saint John’s Wart may be helpful to ward of symptoms of mild depression.
Associations vs Science
It seems every day there is another news story about an association – for example one might state that people who have been to a hospital in the past 30 days are at higher risk of death in the coming year (I made this up as an example – not true). Would this mean hospitals cause death? Of course not – it would mean that people who are sicker are more likely to go to the hospital – therefore, have a higher health risk in the coming year.
When it comes to nutrition, mental health, and for that matter weight management, most news stories are just that – associations. That’s not to say they are bogus – just that if we are going to see if something works or not, it needs to be properly studied. Oftentimes it is these very associations that lead to scientific discovery. That being the case, remember that most vitamins and supplements are sold as food. They are not required to prove that they “work.”
If you want to eat in a way to improve your mental health, remember to eat delicious and healthy foods, not junk and highly processed foods. There is no substitute for putting good fuel in the fuel tank! And, don’t forget about the importance of sleep, stress reducing activities, physical activity, and even getting some sun. All of these will help you sustain a positive mood in spite of all the challenges we are all facing these days.