Nutritional psychiatry: a new field with huge potential

When you are eating, you feed not only your body but also your brain. The new field of “Nutritional Psychiatry” uses food as prescriptions instead of drugs to swallow.

Once you have chewed your food and it slides down your stomach and into your gut, there is a whole lot of stuff going on that we do not consciously notice, at least most of the time.

Imagine you are driving in your new Ferrari (whatever makes you happy) and you pull up to the petrol station and have the choice between premium and standard fuel. Most people would choose premium because they want their “baby” to perform at it’s best.

Well, you have exactly the same choice, everyday. If you want your engine, in this case I am referring to your brain, to perform at it’s best, you have to choose premium fuel (food).

Foods that are high in refined sugars have proven to impair brain function, cause mood disorders and depression. Only in past decade, the medical field is starting to realise the connection between the food you eat and how you feel and act.

I mean if you would feed your car a can of coke it wouldn’t feel or behave well either, right?

Holy gut

Illustrator: Russ Tudor- [Source]

95 % of your Serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin is responsible for regulating your sleep, moods and appetite. How well your gastrointestinal tract works is dependent on the amount of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria you have. These bacteria inhibit or cause inflammation, regulate your nutrient absorption and even activate neural pathways travelling between your gut and brain. In other words, your gut and your brain are directly connected! The amount of ‘good’ bacteria you have is directly related to how much ‘good’ food you eat.

Therefore, it makes sense that the condition your gut is in, is in sync of the condition your brain is in. A western diet has even been associated with a smaller hippocampus which is responsible for learning and memory. [1]

Multiple studies have now been carried out on how specific diets affect depression, a study from 2013 suggests that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts had statistically positive effect in intervening with depression. [2]

Another 2014 study compared the effects of a healthy diet with the effects of Problem Solving Therapy which is a treatment that includes antidepressant treatment. The results showed that the diet intervention and the Problem solving therapy had almost identical results of success with the cure of depression. [3] So why take drugs if you can just eat good and ‘avoid’ depression?

The SMILEs Trial

SMILEs stands for Supporting the Modification of lifestyle in lowered emotional states. This really interesting experiment was published in 2017 by Felice Jacka [4] and it deals with exactly what has been discussed by providing answers to the following question: Does healthy eating improve my mood?

The group in the study which was using diet for lowering moderate to severe depression showed significantly greater improvements in their moods compared to the other two control groups, where one was treated with psychotherapy and the other with psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy.

In other words, diet intervention was more effective in treating moderate to severe depression than conventional used therapy.

Hope for the future…

If we continue finding evidence that diet is effective in curing depression, we will have the ability to get many people off medication with nasty side effects. Hopefully in the future, when one visits a doctor due to mood disorders or depression he will hand you a banana instead of a box of pills.

Stay tuned for the next post where we will show you how to build the ‘good bacteria’ in your gut.

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