You are what you eat, or so the saying goes. People who eat unhealthy foods tend to have a lower level of overall physical health than people who adhere to a healthier diet. In recent years, researchers have found a link between diet and mood, suggesting that diets higher in nutritional value can protect individuals from the negative effects of stress, depression, and even anxiety. These mental health problems directly decrease physical health. Thus, understanding how nutrients affect mental health could help individuals improve their physical health as well. Recent studies have shown that whole, unprocessed foods help decrease symptoms of depression, and people who incorporate large amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables have lower levels of stress and anxiety than those who avoid leafy greens. In a recent study, Karen M. Davison, PhD and RD, of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in Women’s Health in Vancouver explored how specific nutrients affect mood.
Davison evaluated 97 adults who had been diagnosed with bipolar, depression, or anxiety and assessed their severity of symptoms and their typical diet. She measured their intake of medication, whole or processed foods, and specific macro and micronutrients. Davison found that the participants who consumed the highest levels of nutrients exhibited the highest levels of mental health. Specifically, the study showed that the depressive symptoms were lowest in those who included high levels of iron in their diets, and those with mania had fewer manic episodes when they increased the amount of zinc in their daily diets. Additionally, Davison discovered that including vitamins B6, B12, and folate improved the overall mental health in the participants, perhaps because it aids in the production of serotonin. Individuals with anxiety saw a reduction in symptoms when they consumed a healthy intake of linoleic acid, fat, and carbohydrates, along with other essential minerals and vitamins. Although these results support prior research, Davison believes more exploration is needed to determine the most effective way to incorporate these elements into a diet to improve mood.
Davison, K. M., and Kaplan, B. J. (2012). Nutrient intakes are correlated with overall psychiatric functioning in adults with mood disorders. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 57.2, 85-92.
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