Nutrition and eating for the brain and mental health are topics I have written about regularly here. Our mood can have powerful influences on many aspects of life and eating for a healthy body naturally impacts the brain. A recently published study (1) highlights the importance of eating for mental health by demonstrating that there is an association between diet quality and the prevalence of mental disorders in women. The study is preliminary and certainly warrants further investigative trials but the data is important to note.
The study authors wanted to examine the extent to which the high prevalence of mood disorders are related to diet/eating habits. The research involved 1,046 women between the ages of 20 and 93 who were randomly selected. A diet quality score was devised and the habitual eating patterns of the women were analysed. The women also underwent a specialised questionnaire and clinical interview to assess their psychological health. Current depressive and anxiety disorders were recorded. The researchers found that a traditional western diet which includes processed/fried foods, refined grains, sugary products and beer was associated with anxiety and depression. The results were not confounded by age, education or a variety of other behaviours, indicating that diet was having a very real impact on mood (1).
Eating a ‘traditional western diet’ was associated with more than a 50% increased likelihood for depressive disorders in the women involved in the study. Depression and anxiety disorders were around 30% less likely among women who ate a healthier diet which consisted mainly of vegetables, fruits, fish and unrefined wholegrains (1)
The authors suggest that further investigations are needed to determine whether unhealthy eating leads to declining mental health or whether declining mental health leads to unhealthier eating. It is probable that these events are not mutually exclusive. Feeling good often means that a better quality diet is eaten, self-esteem is high and we tend to look after our bodies and feed them healthfull foods. Feeling ‘low’ may lead to lowered self-esteem and poorer quality food choices at a time when high quality foods would probably make a difference to mind and body.
As my previous posts relating to mood and mental health aim to highlight, a healthy diet and lifestyle which includes some regular exercise really can go far in impacting mental health. Diets rich in vegetables, fruit, unrefined meats, fish, and wholegrains are a good basis health. Omega 3 fats from oily fish and/or supplements seem particularly important for the brain and mood elevation.
(1) Jacka FN et al. 2010. Association of Western and Traditional Diets With Depression and Anxiety in Women. Am J Psychiatry (published online January 4, 2010; doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2009.09060881)
Written by Ani Kowal