Diet can protect against psychiatric conditions
22 October 2015
Nutritional medicine should be one of the mainstays of treatment for psychiatric conditions, says a Melbourne professor.
Andrew Scholey, a professor of brain and behavioural sciences at Swinburne University, says there is a growing body of evidence that early diet, and the diet of the mother, can affect the development of psychiatric disorders in later life.
“Interactions between diet and other aspects of the environment with an individual’s genetic predisposition and microbiome can have very profound effects on expression of mental health,” he says.
(The microbiome is a person's distinct population of bacteria that live inside and on their body. One individual's microbiome will be different from another's. Evidence is emerging for the involvement of the microbiome in conditions as diverse as allergy, Alzheimer's, obesity and metabolic syndrome. )
“We’re only just beginning to get a grasp on the interactions but there’s emerging evidence that people who adhere to the so-called Mediterranean diet, with lots of fresh leafy greens and oily fish, seem to be protected in some degree against psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety.”
Prof Scholey is a member of the newly founded International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. The organisation recently published a viewpoint in the Lancet Psychiatry journal, in which it notes that the current drug-focused model of psychiatry has achieved only “modest benefits”.
It says there is “compelling evidence for nutrition as a crucial factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders”, suggesting that diet “is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology”.
Clinical trials have supported the use of omega-3 fatty acid supplements for conditions such as bipolar and major depression as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Other nutrient-based supplements for which there is “convincing evidence” for neurochemical modulatory activities are zinc, B vitamins, vitamin D, S-adenosyl methionine, and N-acetyl cysteine.
Prof Scholey says there is an explosion of research in nutritional psychiatry at the moment, particularly in Australia.