“Eat this, you’ll feel better.”
Many of us have heard this or even offered this advice, as most people have had some direct experience of the link between mood and food.
When my son was a toddler, his mood was directly, conspicuously related to the contents of his stomach. My husband and I quickly learned that his agreeableness could be more or less ensured with the timely administration of a granola bar.
We never went anywhere without a granola bar.
New evidence from the burgeoning field of nutritional psychiatry is helping to make sense of such anecdotal experiences and could expand the horizons of psychiatric research, theory and practice in important ways.
Investigations of the relationship between nutrition and aspects of brain function relevant to mental health date back to the 1970s, and nutritionists working in complementary and alternative medicine have long recognized the connection.
But this area of research has recently gained new momentum within psychiatry. In the last five years, numerous observational research—as well as intervention and animal studies—have confirmed the importance of dietary content in diverse populations around the world.
In my work as a medical anthropologist who studies the interactions between mental and physical health, I have observed the ways that psychological problems are often closely linked to the state of our bodies.
New findings from nutritional psychiatry research suggest that our emotional state may be closely related to the content of the foods we eat, providing additional evidence of the links between mind and body.
A new study by researchers from Johns Hopkins University found that consumption of meats cured with nitrates (such as hot dogs and salami) may contribute to episodes of mania. While other factors also contribute to clinical levels of mania, this study suggests that people who eat large amounts of such meats may experience important psychological and behavioral effects.
Other studies have shown that diets high in fruits, vegetables, protein and good fats may help prevent—and even cure—depression. Conversely, diets high in saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and processed foods are associated with greater risk for depression.
Perhaps most potentially transformative among these findings is evidence that diet affects mental health in children, including risk for depression and anxiety, but also attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Studies show an association between dietary quality and ADHD in children. There is also evidence that a lack of certain nutrients may contribute to the disorder. So while there is not sufficient evidence to back up the popular notion that sugar causes hyperactivity, an overabundance of processed foods and refined carbohydrates (including refined sugar) may actually increase the risk of ADHD symptoms.
Source: Scientific American