Mediterranean diet has proven to be successful at reducing the onset and extent of depression.
Whenever the subject of mental health, specifically the treatment of Bipolar Mood Disorder, is discussed, an emphasis is placed on the dual approach of medication and regular ongoing therapy. While it is undoubtedly the most effective approach to treatment that currently exists, we often don’t spend enough time thinking about how proper nutrition can contribute to overall mental and physical well-being.
The importance of proper nutrition is ubiquitously highlighted in the research and discourse around physical health, be it the fitness of our hearts or the size of our waists. However, what about our minds?
Can micronutrients influence our thoughts and feelings?
According to extensive research, not only does proper nutrition boost physical and mental performance, but it can also significantly reduce the effects of mental illnesses such as Bipolar Mood Disorder.
A low-quality diet with high intake of refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white pasta, white rice, pastries and cake, or other highly processed foods such as canned goods, microwave meals, chips and crisps, is directly linked to abject mental health conditions in children and young people.
Doctor Julia Rucklidge, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, has been actively changing the way medical practitioners view the importance of nutrition in mental health treatments.
Specifically, through the intense study of micronutrients’ function in the brain, Dr Rucklidge found that by providing the brain with so-called ‘premium fuel’ on a constant basis, a person with BMD would experience a marked improvement in their moods which is unassociated with typical medications prescribed for the same purposes.
Similarly, the opposite is true. A diet high in ‘impure’ foods that are low in micronutrients and high in sugar leads to a decline in moods, mental clarity and overall emotional well-being. It is mainly due to the way in which nutrients interact with the chemicals in our brains.
In New Zealand, one-eighth of the population were prescribed antidepressants in 2012 alone. That was a 38% increase in one year. Dr Rucklidge says that medications such as antipsychotics, anti-anxiety pills, and anti-depressants, followed the same pattern: initially, patients would experience a significant improvement in their symptoms, but over time those effects would decrease and, in some cases, get even worse.
It was after reviewing the exciting findings of a preliminary study in Canada on the effects of micronutrient supplementation in patients with BMD and other depression-related illnesses that Dr Rucklidge felt compelled to dive deeper into the possibilities the findings presented.
According to Dr Rucklidge, a well-nourished brain maintained with the appropriate doses of micronutrients was more likely to improve and continue to do so indefinitely. She adds that she’d never seen such dramatic results in over two decades of studying the effects of traditional treatments.
So, what should we eat to take care of our brains and minds?
Avoid foods that contain high concentrations of refined sugar and processed foods. Try to focus instead on wholesome foods like fruits (in moderation), vegetables, whole grains, sugar-free dairy, lean meat, and small amounts of sodium and saturated fat.
Another specific type of diet that has proven to be successful at reducing the onset and extent of depression is the Mediterranean diet. A typical meal plan would include vegetables, moderate amounts of fruits, legumes, eggs, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and many unsaturated fats such as olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, and cream. Regarding supplementation: regularly consuming fish oil has been seen to decrease depression.
However, Dr Rucklidge is quick to point out that traditional treatments that depend on medications and therapy are hugely beneficial to many people who have a mental illness; that is to say, we needn’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater as we investigate newer and better ways of treating mental illness.
Managing mental illness can be very challenging, and the combination of medications and therapy has been proven to be effective time and time again. However, since scientists are now seeing the immense benefits of specific and proper nutrition on mental health, it might be prudent to eat all the goodness mentioned above in addition to traditional treatments.