Is nutrition linked to mental health? New clinical review says 'yes'

We often hear speculation that bad mental health days can be cured with supplements and proper nutrition. Feeling depressed? Drink tulsi tea. Too stressed to think? Try turmeric and ginger.


But while anecdotal claims of eating to solve mental health problems like anxiety and depression are promising, a new clinical review calls for better research.


If you’ve ever taken medicine to improve your mood and support your brain, you’ll want to have a closer look at the emerging field of nutritional psychology. According to the review, there’s a link between poor nutrition and behavioral health disorders—and psychologists are excited to learn more.


Nutritional psychology researchers hope to help people understand why the brain and the food we eat is so strong. If more people understand the link between the mind and food, the better off psychiatric patients (and all of us) might be when aiming to treat or prevent mental illness. 


So how exactly does your kale smoothie improve your brain? We dug up some information from recent clinical trials that shows where preliminary research is now. There’s much more work left to do, as the clinical review suggests, but the medical community has made some initial connections.


How good nutrition improves your brain


A 2020 clinical study that looked at active duty military members who regularly perform under extreme mental and physical stress, showed that exercise alone isn’t enough to achieve optimal mental health. It turns out, diet makes a big difference.


The trial put participants through physical and mental tests, then measured improvements from exercise alone and exercise plus nutritional supplements. The nutritional supplement was a ready-to-drink eight-fluid-ounce peach liquid containing protein, choline, DHA, magnesium, folic acid, and about a dozen other vitamins and minerals.


The study tested participants on cognitive functions like reaction time, memory and intelligence. It found that six of the eight cognitive measures improved in the group that got exercise training plus nutritional supplement intervention. This supports the notion that nutrition is important for optimal mental wellbeing.


Why does nutrition matter?


You might not be motivated by achieving rock-hard abs, dropping a dress size or getting your body “beach-ready” for hot girl summer — but nutrition still matters. When your goal is to feel better, have fewer mood swings and feel confident in your mental clarity, nutrition is just as important as other factors like exercise, sleep and medication.


Yet, more research is desperately needed. According to a 2019 study, we’re facing a major pivot as present-day adults start to age. As the current population gets older, adverse mental health symptoms like depression, anxiety and seasonal affective disorder may rise. By 2050, the global population aged 60 years and over is expected to reach nearly 2.1 billion, according to the study.


Mental health also affects adolescents. A recent study just highlighted a relationship between a fruit-and-vegetable-rich diet and a lower frequency of negative mental health symptoms for youth.


The mind, like the body, is mysterious. But since food is already part of our day-to-day lives, scientists urge healthcare providers to consider using nutrition as a helpful stepping stone on the pathway to greater wellbeing.

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