Nutrition and Mental Health

Patients with mental disorders are often deficient in omega–3 fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that are precursors to neurotransmitters.

About 10-20% of the population experience mental health conditions each year, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress. Research shows that nutrition can influence mental health.

According to a published review of nutrition and mental health, the most common nutritional deficiencies seen in patients with mental disorders are of omega–3 fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that are precursors to neurotransmitters.

Although the connection between nutritional deficiencies and physical illness is better understood, fewer people are aware of the connection between nutrition and mental health. Many dietary patterns that precede depression are the same as those that occur during depression. These may include poor appetite, skipping meals, and a dominant desire for sweet foods. Nutritional neuroscience is an emerging discipline shedding light on the fact that nutritional factors are intertwined with human cognition, behavior, and emotions.

This is not meant to imply that a particular nutrient or nutrients can cure or prevent all mental illness, simply that there is a connection between mental health and many nutrients, including carbohydrates, protein, omega-3 fats, B-complex, vitamin B12, folate, calcium, chromium, iron, selenium, iodine, zinc, and mental health. Good nutrition plays a significant role in overall brain health. And poor nutritional status may negatively influence brain health, mood, depression, etc.

Note: Discontinuing appropriate medications or therapies is not recommended without specific advice by a health professional, but making sure that you get all the nutrients you need to support mental health is always recommended.

Rao TS, Asha MR, Ramesh BN, Rao KS. Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses. Indian J Psychiatry. 2008;50(2):77-82.