Should Diet and Nutrition Be Included in Treatment for Anxiety and Depression?

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Most doctors agree that good nutrition is important for your health, physically and emotionally. But treatment for mental illness rarely includes testing for nutritional deficiencies and information on how to better your eating habits to improve your mental health. Researchers at the University of Melbourne and Deakin University believe that "psychiatry and public health should now recognize and embrace diet and nutrition as key determinants of mental health."

This isn't the first time diet has been linked to anxiety and other mood disorders. A study completed in 2010 at the University of Melbourne compared a traditional diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and high-quality meats and fish with a Western diet, consisting of refined and processed foods. The researchers found that those who ate a traditional diet had significantly less depression and anxiety disorders. This study, however, didn't look at specific nutrients or provide any guidance on possible deficiencies.

This study, along with others, have found that nutrition plays a role in overall mental health, just as it does in physical health. Dr. Jerome Sarris, the lead author of the recent study, explains that today, psychiatry uses a medically-focused approach to treating mental health issues and this approach has given us "modest benefits." But, with the incidence rates of depression and anxiety continually growing, Sarris believes, we should be looking at nutrition as part of the overall treatment.

Prenatal and early life nutrition is vitally important. Deficiencies during "critical developmental periods" might contribute to rising rates of depression and anxiety in children and adolescents, according to Associate Professor and Principal Research Fellow from Deakin University, Felice Jacka. Better nutrition during the early years of life, researchers believe, might help prevent common mental disorders from developing.

Certain nutrients, including omega-3, B vitamins, choline, iron, zinc, magnesium, S-adenosyl methionine, Vitamin D and amino acids might all play a role because they are known to affect brain health. While a balanced diet, high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats is important, for some people, supplements might be needed.

Talk to your doctor about whether diet might be contributing to your anxiety symptoms. A laboratory test can show whether you are deficient in certain nutrients. Together with your doctor, you can determine which, if any, supplements you should add on a daily basis. Some health insurance companies cover a visit with a nutritionist to help you build a diet that includes the nutrients essential for good mental health as well as good physical health.

For more information, see: Dinner Plans Can help You Manage Anxiety

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.