We know that food affects the body — but could it just as powerfully impact the mind? While the role of diet and nutrition in our physical health is undeniable, the influence of dietary factors on mental health has been less considered. That may be starting to change. For the first time, a report by a task force advising on new dietary guidelines, commissioned by the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture, included a point considering the possible role of diet in mental health outcomes. The USDA and HHS report notes, for example, that the American Psychiatric Association classifies omega-3 fatty acids (which are most commonly found in oily fish) as a complementary treatment for depression. However, the advisory panel concluded, for now, that the research was too limited to make policy suggestions.
Some psychiatrists, too, have recently launched a rallying cry for a more integrative approach to mental health care — one that takes diet and other lifestyle factors into account in diagnosing, treating and preventing mental illness. In a paper recently published in The Lancet Psychiatry, an international group of scientists (all members of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research) argue that diet is “as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology.”
“A well-nourished brain is going to be more resilient,” says Ramsey. “Being a modern human is stressful. There are a lot of demands for our attention and we’re exposed to a lot more trauma … Through diet, over time you make the brain more resilient.”