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  • Writer's pictureAlexandra Dobbs

A New Science on the Horizon: Nutritional Psychiatry

What is Nutritional Psychiatry?

There is a definite link between the gut and the brain, which is why the food you eat potentially has such a damaging as well as healing effect on our mental health.

Nutritional psychiatry is a rapidly growing field of research that has the potential to provide clinically meaningful interventions to both prevent and manage mental illness.

Harvard-trained, board-certified psychiatrist Dr Georgia Ede who is helping pioneer this emerging discipline in psychiatric practice. Prof John Cryan and Dr Gerard Clarke at the University of Cork have been researching probiotics and their effect on the brain for years.

Why is this of importance?

It’s a huge step towards empowering the patient to take charge of their own mental health recovery. One word of caution: While we can all improve our diets, using a specific diet in the treatment of a mental illness requires expertise and specialists and cannot be achieved using Dr Google alone.

Give me an example of how Nutritional Psychiatry can help?

The Ketogenic Diet appears to be the most effective. This highly specific diet supports the brain’s growth and repair pathways, helps to correct neurotransmitter imbalances, and improves the brain’s access to energy.

A good example is Alzheimer’s Disease, these days also known as Diabetes Type 3. The idea is that, much like the pancreas in Diabetes Type 2, the brain stops working properly due to prolonged elevated blood glucose levels. A ketogenic diet approach has been shown to help improve brain function because it drives the body to burn ketones (fats) for fuel rather than glucose (sugar, carbs).

People experience greater mental clarity with a ketogenic diet.

It’s a very low carb, highly regimented lifestyle that needs proper supervision and should not be undertaken lightly.

Another example: Diet and Depression?

The University of Cork is world leading in researching probiotics and their effects on our brain. They are looking at tryptophan to enhance mood. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid (protein) readily found in many foods including turkey, pumpkin seeds, chicken, tuna, peanuts, milk and cheese.

Tryptophan is a key building block in many neurotransmitters such as serotonin, the feel good hormone, or melatonin, the sleep hormone. A healthy gut will make more tryptophan available to our brains than a disturbed gut.

Can nutrition solve all psychiatric problems?

Yes, for example we already know that fish oils or Omega 3 Fatty Acids, are super beneficial for brain health and should be taken to improve mental clarity. With regards to Nutritional Psychiatry, we know that ketogenic diets are not right for everyone, and their use in managing psychiatric disorders often requires specialised knowledge and expertise, particularly when medications are involved.

We know so much already about how food affects the brain, but at the same time are only starting to learn just how much a good diet can help our mental health.

How can we eat for good mental health?

Diet and gut health are important to consider when looking at diet for mood. So the advice is not just to eat tryptophan rich foods but also to eat lots of fibre and fermented foods to help build a resilient gut. The Mediterranean Diet is a famous example of a balanced daily diet that can will supply the right nutrients while also feeding the gut.

But movement, sports, walks, swimming and finding a hobby to take your mind off the daily stresses are equally important when minding your mental health. A Nutritional Therapist and Lifestyle Coach like myself can help you work out a plan that suits yourself. And as always, if you feel you need help from a doctor, go and see your GP.

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