• A study by University of Melbourne and Deakin University states that public health should now recognise and embrace diet and nutrition as key determinants of mental health.
• It says nutrition is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology.
Poor diet has for long been cited as the cause for various physical health complications, but researcher have now linked it to mental health.
That struggle to choose between eating a burger or fries as opposed to lettuce or spinach could be the deciding factor of whether or not you may need psychiatric treatment at some point in your life.
A study done through a collaboration between University of Melbourne and Deakin University states that psychiatry and public health should now recognise and embrace diet and nutrition as key determinants of mental health.
"While the determinants of mental health are complex, the emerging and compelling evidence for nutrition as a key factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders suggests that nutrition is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology," Lead author, Dr Jerome Sarris from the University of Melbourne said.
The research was published in The Lancet Psychiatry
Psychiatry is at a critical stage of importance as the world battles a pandemic, inflation, war and natural catastrophes.
According to the World Health Organisation, depression could be one of the top health concerns in the world by 2030.
The Star spoke to Nanyuki-based nutritionist, Wincate Wangari on this very delicate matter.
"What most people do not know is that what they consume influences numerous aspects of health, including weight, athletic performance and risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes,” Wangari said.
She said that many nutrients found in healthy foods including omega-3s, B vitamins (particularly folate and B12), choline, iron, zinc, magnesium, have a clear link to brain health and it is best to include them in our diets, at least twice a day.
"While we advocate for these to be consumed in the diet where possible, additional select prescription of these as nutrient supplements may also be justified," she said.
Wangari said that it is important for parents to watch what their children eat as maternal and early-life nutrition is also emerging as a factor in mental health outcomes in children.
A systematic review published in late 2014 has also confirmed a relationship between 'unhealthy' dietary patterns and poorer mental health in children and adolescents.
"Given the early age of onset for depression and anxiety, improving their diet can be a way of preventing the initial incidence of common mental disorders.”
What's the link between diet and mental illness?
The direct link between diet and mental health alteration is still not fully understood but researchers suggest there might be a connection between gut health and the brain.
Wangari suggested that the two might be interconnected.
"How we feel, may affect our food decisions, and how our food decisions may affect our mental health," she said.
"It is important to keep in mind that many factors can influence both eating habits and mental health. For example, it is not uncommon to turn to less healthful foods such as sweets or highly processed foods when feeling angry or upset,” Wangari said.
Whereas diet remains a key aspect in our mental health, it is important to keep in mind that various environmental and social-economical factors may also contribute to our mood and how we feel.
"The key is having a balance in everything. Even though you turn to healthy options all the time, including a little physical activity like running and taking walks may also be essential,” Wangari said.