Diet Depression & Mental Health

How Nutrition and Depression are Linked.  Nutrition and Depression - how diet and mental health are linked

Extract from an article first published by the Brighton Argus in 2005. by Martina Watts BA(Hons).Dip.ION. Martina is organising this years major national conference in London on 15 June 2006 "Diet and Depression: Nutritional Interventions for tackling Depression."

Chronic depression isn’t something one can just snap out of, but a debilitating medical condition affecting mind and body. Apart from depressed mood, loss of interest and low self-worth, it includes symptoms of low energy, insomnia, weight loss or weight gain. Depression has increased twenty-fold since 1945 and, according to the World Health Organisation, will become the second highest cause of the global disease burden by 2020.


An important new report by food campaigner Sustain and the Mental Health Foundation reveals dietary changes over the last century may be one of the driving forces behind the epidemic of mental health problems. Intensive farming practices, food manufacturing, production and storage have significantly altered the amount and balance of nutrients in our food, thereby potentially affecting function and structure of the brain.


In the UK, we eat small amounts of a few types of fruit and vegetables, very few wholegrains and very little oily fish. Instead, we consume vast quantities of refined carbohydrates, altered fats, intensively reared meat and dairy products and unknown combinations of synthetic chemicals and residues. This diet is completely at odds with that of our ancestors and produces bad ‘brain food’. Pre-historic hunter-gatherers depended on good ‘brain food’ for survival: plenty of different fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, legumes and some oily fish and lean meat.


There is a well-known correlation between low intakes of fish by a country and high levels of depression among its population (the same has been shown for post-natal depression, seasonal affective disorder and bipolar affective disorder). In addition to the omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish, people with low intakes of B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc and the amino acid tryptophan are more likely to be diagnosed with depression than those with higher intakes.


I spoke to Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, who acknowledges that there is no clinical evidence diet can cure or prevent mental health problems. However, a nutritious diet may relieve the symptoms of mental illness, reduce the side effects of antidepressants and improve their effectiveness.


McCulloch says “We know that the brain is made up in large part of essential fatty acids, water and other nutrients. We know that food affects how we feel, think and behave. Yet we rarely invest in developing this knowledge, and a relatively tiny – but growing – number of professionals are putting it to effective use.” One could even argue that we invest heavily in abandoning this knowledge and our dietary heritage – it seems to be more profitable. McCulloch agrees: “It was time nutrition became a mainstream, everyday component of mental health care and a regular factor in mental health promotion. The potential rewards, in economic terms, and in terms of alleviating human suffering are enormous.”


*Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, is speaking on the topic "Feeding Minds - the Impact of Food on Mental Health"  at this years conference "Diet and Depression: Nutritional Interventions for tackling Depression."