What is the link between
Nutrition and Mental Health?
The body of evidence linking diet and mental health is growing exponentially, showing that food plays a vital role in the development, management and prevention of specific mental health problems and therefore, plays a significant part in both our short and long-term mental health.
The brain is incredibly sensitive to what we consume and just like the rest of the body, it requires nutrients, especially essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and water, to remain healthy and to function optimally.
Micronutrients for brain health include Omega-3 fatty acids, tryptophan, B-vitamins, zinc and magnesium, however, deficiencies in some or all of these micronutrients is common.
For example, Omega-3s promote brain health by lowering inflammation in the brain and protecting brain cells from excessive inflammation. Studies have shown that Omega-3s have an overall beneficial effect in patients with major depressive disorder. Zinc can also help reduce brain inflammation.
B-vitamins are essential for mood regulation as they aid in the production of the chemical messengers in the brain responsible for this. A deficiency in vitamin B12 may lead to a folate deficiency, which could then contribute to the loss of specific brain cells associated with depression and that are responsible for learning and memory.
There is also now a wider understanding of how the gut has a huge effect on human physiology. The gut itself is very complex; it hosts the largest number of immune and hormonal cells and the largest number of nerve cells outside of the brain and spinal cord.
When the body is under increased stress, our nutrient requirements also increase, however, increased stress also means that the amount of nutrients we are able to absorb and use effectively from the food we consume is reduced.
Frequent or chronic stress can then manifest as physical symptoms such as constipation or diarrhoea, bloating, fatigue, headaches and recurrent infections.
We also must acknowledge the overlap between mental health conditions and long-term physical health. Those with poor mental health are less likely to keep on top of the self-management of other health concerns as well as their general physical health, which could result in the worsening of any conditions. Those who experience severe mental illness also have a significantly higher rate of physical illnesses, dramatically impacting life expectancy.
Traditionally, mental and physical health problems are treated separately with symptom management designed around isolated conditions rather than patients as individuals. This is exactly the opposite of how Nutritional Therapists support their clients and address their health concerns.
Nutritional Therapists use a holistic approach to symptom management.
The Nutritional Therapy philosophy is to look at the body and its systems as a whole; how they are connected and how they work together. This sets the foundation to then create a completely personalised set of health recommendations for clients rather than using a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Healthcare should always be tailored to your individual needs and requirements.
Nutritional Therapists use a wide range of tools to assess any potential underlying root causes of poor health as well as identify any predisposing factors or triggers which may be exacerbating any symptoms.
Nutritional Therapy is a complementary healthcare discipline that uses evidence-based interventions as well as nutrition, lifestyle and scientific research in order to create personalised health plans. Plans will address any physiological imbalances within the body which can often be expressed as specific symptoms.
Imbalances can be due to nutrient deficiency, insufficiency or hormonal excess.
An individual’s genetics will also affect their ability to absorb, process, store and utilise nutrients.
Nutritional Therapy is not an alternative to other medical and psychological therapies but, recognising the role nutrition plays at a molecular level is fundamental in order to optimise health. It is suitable for those with chronic conditions as well as those looking to implement realistic and sustainable actions to enhance their overall wellbeing as a preventative approach.
Nutritional Therapy is the application of nutrition science in the promotion of health, peak performance and individualised care.
Registered Nutritional Therapists will never recommend Nutritional Therapy as a replacement for medical advice and will always refer any client with ‘red flag’ signs or symptoms to their medical professional. They frequently work alongside medical professionals and will communicate with any other healthcare providers involved in a client’s care to explain any nutritional therapy programme that has been recommended to the client.
Nutritional Therapists are governed by certain industry professional bodies and registers and will use specific titles to portray registration and the high level of rigorous training that they have undertaken. One such body is the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), which was set up with government support to protect the public. To be eligible for CNHC registration, Nutritional Therapists must have undertaken training that meets the minimum national standards of practice as set by the Nutritional Therapy National Occupational Standards and the Nutritional Therapy Core Curriculum.
The title ‘Nutritionist’ is not protected. This means that anyone, regardless of their training (or lack thereof) can set up and practice as a Nutritionist, without any affiliation to professional accrediting bodies. This means that they can practice without being regulated and upheld to a certain level of training.
Registered Nutritionists however, have spent many years studying and will provide evidence-based guidance on food and nutrition. They will have the letters (RNutr) after their name to indicate their high level of training.