Nancy A. Melville
January 30, 2014
For all the attention paid to the negative effects poor dietary choices have on the body, the effects of diet on the brain are largely unexplored. However, emerging research is providing new insights to support the suggestion that food can have a profound influence on mental health and cognition.
From sugar and carbohydrates to fats and even, according to one controversial theory, whole grains, the list of dietary choices having potentially negative effects on the brain is growing by leaps and bounds.
And although the big caveat for the bulk of evidence is that most studies show an association with but not necessarily causation of mental health and cognitive deficits, many clinicians report seeing first-hand improvement in patients' mental health outcomes with the tweaking of a diet to eliminate some of the most notorious culinary culprits.
“While we don't want to send the message to patients that all they have to do is change their diet and their severe depression will be cured, I can say that I have absolutely seen dietary changes work to improve outcomes for a lot of patients, and there are a lot of reports of that,” said Drew Ramsey, MD, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City.
Dr. Ramsey, the author of The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body (Rodale, 2011) and Fifty Shades of Kale (HarperWave, 2013), asserts that the role of diet, so strongly emphasized in general practice, is simply too commonly overlooked in mental health practice.
“If someone has a severe mental illness, it is very important to talk to them about diet,” he told Medscape Medical News. For example, he said, if a patient has certain nutrient deficiencies, it will be difficult for any medications to help until such deficiencies are treated.
“Yet I know clinicians who simply never talk to their patients about food because they're not taught to discuss the topic,” he added.
“But certainly that will change over the next decade with the data that's coming out, including epidemiological data showing a clear signal that the risk of depression increases when you eat a diet of highly processed modern food.”
In some of the strongest data along these lines, researchers led by Felice Jacka, PhD, of Deakin University, in Melbourne, Australia, have conducted a series of studies showing a poor diet to be associated with cognitive deficits.
In one longitudinal study of 2054 Australian adolescents, a diet consisting of “junk food,” ranging from chips, chocolates, and sweets to pizza and soda, was associated with a worsening of mental health status during a 2-year period (PLoS One, published online September 21, 2011).
Another study of more than 23,020 women and children in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study showed that high consumption of junk foods during pregnancy and during the first 5 years of life predicted externalizing problems, such as aggression, hyperactivity, or tantrums, among children, independent of other confounding factors and of the childhood diet.
Children with unhealthy diets postnatally also were found to have had greater problems with externalizing as well as internalizing problems, such as worrying, sadness, and anxiety (J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry, published online August 17, 2013).
And in a third study of 5731 adult and older men and women, the research team found a lower risk for depression among participants with better-quality diets, and increased anxiety was observed with a higher intake of processed and unhealthy foods (Psychosomatic Medicine, 2011:73;483-490).
“A diet high in saturated fats and refined sugars has a very potent negative impact on brain proteins that we know are extremely important in depression ― neurotrophins, which protect the brain against oxidative stress and promote the growth of new brain cells,” Dr. Jacka told Medscape Medical News.
— Last Edited by Health_Freedoms at 2014-04-18 07:21:57 —