Nutritional neuroscience is an emerging field of research that has already identified some pretty interesting and applicable pieces of information as it pertains to the link between diet and mental illness. In the recent article “Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illness” multiple nutrition interventions were found to be successful complimentary or alternative medicine options when it comes to treating mental illness, specifically depression. Whether we are clinically or community-based dietitians, we will likely come into contact with a patient affected by this particular mental illness, so this is exciting news. Learning about the involvement of both macronutrients and micronutrients in our mental health will help us better inform and treat our clients/patients. Read below to find out more!
Fats: The first interesting finding in this study was that those who suffer from depression were found to have insufficient dietary intake of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. “The main poly unsaturated fatty acid in the brain is DHA, derived from the omega-3 fatty acid α-linolenic acid, arachidonic acid (AA) and docosa tetraenoic acid, both derived from omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid. Experimental studies have revealed that diets lacking omega-3 poly unsaturated fatty acids lead to considerable disturbance in neural function.” Their deficiency can also accelerate cerebral aging by preventing the renewal of membranes.
Proteins: “Many of the neurotransmitters in the brain are made from amino acids. The neurotransmitter dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine and the neurotransmitter serotonin is made from the tryptophan. If there is a lack of any of these two amino acids, there will not be enough synthesis of the respective neurotransmitters, which is associated with low mood and aggression in the patients.”
Carbohydrates: As dietitians, we know that eating a meal rich in carbohydrates stimulates the release of insulin into the body which allows glucose to enter cells and be used for energy. But it also stimulates the uptake of tryptophan into the brain positively effecting neurotransmitter levels. Low carbohydrate diets exacerbate depression symptoms as there is less production of the brain chemicals serotonin and tryptophan.
B Vitamins: The article found that those suffering from symptoms of depression were likely to be deficient in B complex vitamins, vitamin B12 and folate and supplementation of these vitamins showed a decrease in said symptoms.
Iron: Iron deficiency is thought to play a role in the onset of depression as this deficiency causes fatigue and apathy.
Zinc: “At least five studies have shown that zinc levels are lower in those with clinical depression. Furthermore, intervention research shows that oral zinc can influence the effectiveness of antidepressant therapy. Zinc also protects the brain cells against the potential damage caused by free radicals.”
Calcium: Research shows that SSRIs can inhibit the absorption of calcium which can lead to lower bone density and increase the rick of fractures (especially in the geriatric population).
As you can see this emerging research is of great use to us as Registered Dietitians. Practical takeaways from this article could include (all while using clinical judgement) starting all patients/clients on a multivitamin with minerals, possible a B complex supplement, folate and or omega 3 fatty acid supplement. Having an iron level and calcium level checked for all clients/patients who take SSRIs may also be of benefit. One thing is for sure, this field of research is gaining more exposure and will help us better treat our clients/patients.
Some of the article was quoted in this blog post, but click on the link below to read it in full!