A lack of essential nutrients is known contribute to the onset of poor mental health in people with anxiety and depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and ADHD. Nutritional psychiatry is a growing discipline that focuses on using foods and supplements to provide these essential nutrients as part of an integrated or alternative treatment for mental health disorders.
But nutritional approaches for these debilitating conditions are not widely accepted by mainstream medicine. Treatment options tend to be limited to National Institute for Healthcare Excellence (WELL) guidelines who recommend talking therapies and antidepressants.
Use of antidepressants
Use of antidepressants has more than doubled in recent years. In England, 64.7 million prescriptions were issued for antidepressants in 2016 at a cost of £266.6 million. This is an increase of 3.7 million from the number of items prescribed in 2015 and more than double the 31 million dispensed in 2006.
A recent Oxford University to study found that antidepressants were more effective in treating depression than placebo. The study was led by Dr. Andrea Cipriani who claims that depression is undertreated. Cipriani argues that antidepressants are effective and that a million more prescriptions should be dispensed to people in the UK.
This approach suggests that mental health problems caused by social conditions are seen as easily treatable by simply dispensing medication. But antidepressants are shunned by the people they could help because of the social stigma associated with poor mental health that leads to discrimination and exclusion.
Of greater concern is the increase in the use of antidepressants by children and young people. In Scotland, 5,572 children under 18 were prescribed antidepressants for anxiety and depression in 2016. This figure has more than double since 2009/2010.
But according to the British psychopharmacologist Professor David Healy29 clinical trials on the use of antidepressants in young people found no benefit at all. These trials found that instead of relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression, antidepressants made children and young people feel suicidal.
Healy also challenges their safety and efficacy in adults. He believes antidepressants are over-prescribed and there is little evidence that they are safe for long-term use. Antidepressants are said to create addictionhave unpleasant side effects and cannot always be relied upon to relieve symptoms.
Nutrition and poor mental health
In developed countries like the UK, people are eating a wider variety of foods than ever before – but this do not follow that they are well fed. In fact, many people do not get enough essential nutrients for good brain healthopting for a diet of heavily processed foods containing artificial additives and sugar.
The link between poor mental health and nutritional deficiencies has long been recognized by nutritionists working in the complementary health sector. However, psychiatrists are only beginning to realize more and more about the benefits of using nutritional approaches to mental health, call their peers to support and research this new area of treatment.
We now know that many mental health problems are caused by inflammation in the brain which ultimately causes our brain cells to die. This inflammatory response begins in our gut and is associated with a lack of nutrients in our diet such as magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, vitamins and minerals which are all essential for optimal functioning of our bodies.
has shown that dietary supplements such as zinc, magnesium, omega 3, and vitamins B and D3 can help improve mood, relieve anxiety and depression, and improve mental abilities in people with dementia. Alzheimer’s disease.
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals for optimal health, but there are a lot of people missing inside. One to study found that a daily supplement of magnesium citrate led to a significant improvement in depression and anxiety, regardless of age, gender, or severity of depression. The improvement did not continue when the supplement was stopped.
omega-3 fatty acids are another essential nutrient for the development and functioning of the central nervous system – and a deficiency has been linked to poor mood, cognitive decline and poor comprehension.
The role of probiotics – live beneficial bacteria in your digestive system – by improve mental health has also been explored by psychiatrists and nutritionists, who have found that their daily intake is associated with a reduction of depression and anxiety. Vitamin B complex and zinc are other supplements found to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Hope for the future?
These over-the-counter supplements are widely available in supermarkets, pharmacies, and online health food stores, although cost and quality may vary. For people who have failed to respond to prescription medications or who cannot tolerate side effects, nutritional intervention may offer hope for the future.
There are currently many debate on the effectiveness of antidepressants. Using dietary supplements offers an alternative approach that has the potential to make a significant difference to the mental health of all age groups.
Emerging scientific evidence suggests that there should be a bigger role for nutritional psychiatry in mental health within conventional health services. If the burden of poor mental health is to be reduced, general practitioners and psychiatrists need to be aware of the link between diet, inflammation and mental illness.
Medical education has traditionally excluded nutritional knowledge and its association with disease. This has led to a situation where very few doctors in the UK have a good understanding of the importance of nutrition. Nutritional interventions are thought to have little evidence to support their use to prevent or maintain well-being and are therefore left to dietitians, rather than physicians, to advise.
But as the evidence mounts, it’s time for medical education to take nutrition seriously so that future general practitioners and psychiatrists know as much about its role in good health as they do about anatomy and physiology. The state of our mental health could depend on it.