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Is Nutritional Psychiatry the Future of Mental Health Treatment?

Hadley’s intro:  Let food be thy medicine; medicine be thy food. Hippocrates quote

is backed up by scientific proof that manmade drugs can’t preserve mental and physical

health as well as mother nature does–without doing harm.

Go use this guest post by Joyce Cavaye to regain/sustain optimal health and happiness.


Joyce Cavaye

A lack of essential nutrients is known to contribute to the onset of poor mental health

in people suffering from anxiety and depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and ADHD.

Nutritional psychiatry is a growing discipline that focuses on the use of food and supplements

to provide these essential nutrients as part of an integrated or alternative treatment for

mental health disorders.

But nutritional approaches for these debilitating conditions are not widely accepted

by mainstream medicine. Treatment options tend to be limited to official

National Institute for Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines which recommend

talking therapies and antidepressants.

Use of antidepressants

Antidepressant use has more than doubled in recent years. In England 64.7m prescriptions

were issued for antidepressants in 2016 at a cost of £266.6m. This is an increase of 3.7m on

the number of items prescribed in 2015 and more than double than the 31m issued in 2006.

A recent Oxford University study found that antidepressants were more effective in

treating depression than placebo. The study was led by Dr Andrea Cipriani who claimed

that depression is under treated. Cipriani maintains that antidepressants are effective

and a further 1m prescriptions should be issued to people in the UK.

This approach suggests that poor mental health caused by social conditions is viewed

as easily treated by simply dispensing drugs. But antidepressants are shunned by people whom

they could help because of the social stigma associated with mental ill-health which leads

to discrimination and exclusion.

Prescriptions for 64.7m items of antidepressants were dispensed in England in 2016,
the highest level recorded by the NHS. Shutterstock

More worrying is the increase in the use of antidepressants by children and young people.

In Scotland, 5,572 children under 18 were prescribed antidepressants for anxiety and depression in 2016.

This figure has more than doubled since 2009/2010.

But according to British psychopharmacologist Professor David Healy, 29 clinical trials of

antidepressant use in young people found no benefits at all. These trials revealed that instead of

relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression, antidepressants caused children and young people

to feel suicidal.

Healy also challenges their safety and effectiveness in adults. He believes that antidepressants

are over-prescribed and that there is little evidence that they are safe for long-term use.

Antidepressants are said to create dependency, have unpleasant side effects and cannot

be relied upon to always relieve symptoms.

Nutrition and poor mental health

In developed countries such as the UK people eat a greater variety of foodstuffs than ever before –

but it doesn’t follow that they are well nourished. In fact, many people do not eat enough nutrients

that are essential for good brain health, opting for a diet of heavily processed food containing

artificial additives and sugar.

The link between poor mental health and nutritional deficiencies has long been recognized by

nutritionists working in the complementary health sector. However, psychiatrists are only now

becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of using nutritional approaches to mental health,

calling for their peers to support and research this new field of treatment.

It is now known that many mental health conditions are caused by inflammation in the brain

which ultimately causes our brain cells to die. This inflammatory response starts in our gut

and is associated with a lack of nutrients from our food such as magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids,

probiotics, vitamins and minerals that are all essential for the optimum functioning of our bodies.

Recent research has shown that food supplements such as zinc, magnesium, omega 3, and vitamins B

and D3 can help improve people’s mood, relieve anxiety and depression and improve the mental

capacity of people with Alzheimer’s.

Magnesium is one of most important minerals for optimal health, yet many people are lacking in it.

One study found that a daily magnesium citrate supplement led to a significant improvement

in depression and anxiety, regardless of age, gender or severity of depression. Improvement

did not continue when the supplement was stopped.

Omega-3 fatty acids are another nutrient that is critical for the development and function

of the central nervous system – and a lack has been associated with low mood, cognitive decline

and poor comprehension.

Research has shown that supplements like zinc, magnesium and vitamins B and D
can improve the mental capacity of people with Alzheimer’s. Shutterstock

The role of probiotics – the beneficial live bacteria in your digestive system –

in improving mental health has also been explored by psychiatrists and nutritionists,

who found that taking them daily was associated with a significant reduction in depression and anxiety.

Vitamin B complex and zinc are other supplements found to reduce the symptoms

of anxiety and depression.

Hope for the future?

These over-the-counter” supplements are widely available in supermarkets, chemists

and online health food stores, although the cost and quality may vary.

For people who have not responded to prescription drugs or who cannot tolerate the side effects,

nutritional intervention can offer hope for the future.

There is currently much debate over the effectiveness of antidepressants. The use of food supplements

offer an alternative approach that has the potential to make a significant difference to the

mental health of all age groups.

The emerging scientific evidence suggests that there should be a bigger role for nutritional psychiatry

in mental health within conventional health services. If the burden of mental ill health is to be reduced,

GPs and psychiatrists need to be aware of the connection between food, inflammation and mental illness.

Medical education has traditionally excluded nutritional knowledge and its association with disease.

This has led to a situation where very few doctors in the UK have a proper understanding of the

importance of nutrition. Nutritional interventions are thought to have little evidence to support their use

to prevent or maintain well-being and so are left to dietitians, rather than doctors, to advise on.

But as the evidence mounts up, it is time for medical education to take nutrition seriously so that GPs

and psychiatrists of the future know as much about its role in good health as they do about anatomy

and physiology. The state of our mental health could depend on it.

Comment on this article

Joyce Cavaye does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization

that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

The Open University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation UK.

Love food that loves you back to stay healthy and happy,
Hadley Finch
Claim a gift copy of my audiobook interviews of relationship success experts HappySexyLoveInRomanticRelationships.com

About Hadley Finch

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