Nutritional Psychiatry: Here, Eat This. It Will Make You Feel Better.
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. – Hippocrates
While Hippocrates, the Greek physician known as the “Father of Modern Medicine,” died in 360 B.C., his words are extremely relevant today. It is commonly accepted that a nutritious diet is vital for good physical health, and now there is increasing evidence that it plays a significant role in mental health, too.
This concept of “nutritional psychiatry” is gaining traction. In recent studies comparing teens with a typical Western diet (considered the lowest quality nutritionally) with those who consume higher quality whole foods, the results were astounding. Those eating the less healthy Western diet had an 80% increased risk of developing depression and double the risk for attention-deficit disorder (ADD).
Asking patients about their food choices has not been a traditional practice in therapy, but it might quickly become one. In only the past five to 10 years, many experts have come to believe good nutrition can help safeguard and improve overall mental health and decrease the risk of developing psychiatric disorders, including depression and anxiety. Food allergies are being studied for a possible link to more advanced diagnoses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Researchers caution that nutrition is not meant to replace medication in treatment plans, but to supplement it. It is known that diet affects the immune system and genetics, as well as how the body responds to stress. Eating well is very likely to help medication be most effective.
Turns out, not surprisingly, that the same foods that are good for your body are also good for your mental health. For best all-around health, limit sugary and high-fat processed foods, and choose fresh veggies, fresh fruits and whole grains.
Nutrients and examples of food choices that may play a role in promoting good mental health:
- B vitamins (which include thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate [also called folic acid or folacin], vitamin B6, vitamin B12, biotin and pantothenic acid)
- Iron (spinach, black beans, dark chocolate, liver, grass fed beef)
- Omega-3s (wild-caught seafood, like salmon and mackerel)
- Zinc (lamb, pumpkin seeds, chick peas, cashews)
- Fermented foods (kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt)
TALKING TURKEY: A THANKSGIVING TIDBIT
There is a widely circulated—but mostly false—statement that often gets passed around Thanksgiving tables, along with second helpings of casseroles. The crux of the claim is that turkey contains high levels of tryptophan, an ingredient that boots serotonin to make you happy and melatonin to make you sleepy.
While tryptophan is essential for the production of serotonin in the brain, turkey is not especially high in it. All meats contain tryptophan (an amino acid), with some having more than turkey. Even some vegetables have more, and soybeans have twice as much.
So, there’s nothing about the Thanksgiving menu that chemically makes people happy or sleepy, but there are dozens of reasons you might feel both during the holiday. Count excitement, anxiety, cooking and cleaning, being lazy, or just being in the company of family and friends. Add overeating and alcohol, and being happy to take a nap just seems like common sense.
Wilmington Psychotherapy specializes in a range of mental health services for clients of all ages. To learn more about Jim Doxey, including his experience and credentials, visit wilmingtonpsychotherapy.com or call (910) 344-0481.