Nutrition helps with a person’s physical health and physical health and mental health are very much intertwined. When you take care of your physical health your mental health benefits and of course vice versa, added Kelly.
Scientists are currently looking at three ways the connection between food and mood is made, Kelly said.
The first is delving into specific dietary patterns of eating that can impact mental health. The second is researching specific nutrients on a biochemical level and how specific foods can alter brain chemistry. And the third area of research is the link between gut and brain health.
“Those three new areas are super cool topics to dive into…It shows what we eat does impact depressive symptoms, our mood and our energy levels,” Kelly explained
“It can have an application to the general population, but also with people who have very severe mental illness.”
In a recent article published on the Harvard Health Publishing website, when it comes to dietary patterns, studies have done comparisons between “traditional” diets such as the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet, to a typical “Western” diet.
The results of the study showed the risk of depression was 25 to 35 per cent lower in people who ate the Mediterranean or Japanese diet.
Scientists stated the major difference between the two dietary patterns was the high amount of vegetables, fruits, seafood and unprocessed grains with modest amounts of lean meats and dairy. They also have limited processed and refined foods and sugars, which are common in “Western” diets.
A similar study was done at the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia, called The Supporting the Modification of lifestyle in Lowered Emotional States (SMILES) trial. The results of the study were published in the international journal BMC Medicine. Participants were split into two groups, one who followed the Mediterranean diet and one social support group.
After three months, the results of the study showed a decrease in the depressive symptoms of those who adopted the Mediterranean diet compared to the second group. The study found a third of those in the dietary support group were more susceptible to remission of major depression, compared to 8 percent of those within the social support group.
However, Kelly stresses that simply changing your dietary pattern doesn’t translate to a cure for mental illnesses. There’s still a long way to go.
“I get asked a lot, ‘well if I eat these certain foods can I not take my medication?’ and the answer is well no. A lot of what we’re talking about is overall taking care of our mental health but when it comes to major depression or schizophrenia, we can’t say that it’s going to cure you,” Kelly said.
“I would say when they talk about mental health and nutrition now it’s still very broad. Unfortunately we ( the science) are not there right now to give that specific advice, but in the future I hope we get there…as of right now it’s not considered front line therapy.”
However, Kelly believes food still plays a vital role in a person’s recovery journey even if the client doesn’t know it yet.
“Patients don’t often see the connection or how they correlate. When I talk to people about the role nutrition plays in their mental health people are very interested and say, ‘oh I didn’t know that,’ but if we think about the building blocks of what our brains are made out of, it’s made out of nutrients,” Kelly explained.
“And those nutrients affect you, whether it’s increased energy or focus, so of course what you eat will impact how you feel.”