Do the foods we eat influence our mental health? That’s the idea behind nutritional psychology, also called nutritional psychiatry.
Support for Nutritional Psychology
Studies suggest there is, indeed, a connection between food and mental health. After all, our brains require food for fuel, just like any other organ. It makes sense that the kind of fuel is important.
Plus, the gastrointestinal tract is responsible for producing 95 percent of the body’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation. The condition of the gastrointestinal tract, including the presence of beneficial bacteria or harmful inflammation, could affect both digestion and emotions.
One systematic review, published in 2018 in Molecular Psychiatry, analyzed more than 40 studies that looked at the connection between following a healthy diet and depressive symptoms or clinical depression. Results indicated that a healthy diet may offer some protection against depression.
Stanford Medicine, the medical school at Stanford University, established the Metabolic Psychiatry Clinic, the first academic specialty clinic in the United States that evaluates and treats patients with psychiatric illness and metabolic abnormalities. Compared to the general population, people with psychiatric illness have a higher proportion of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Many patients also may experience metabolic abnormalities from taking certain medications for mental health conditions.
Behavioral health clinicians who encourage healthy lifestyle choices could help improve their clients’ outcomes. Positive lifestyle behaviors can also improve physical health, especially when encouraged in partnership with the rest of a client’s care team.
An Ideal Mental Health Diet?
There may not be a single, ideal diet that everyone should follow for their mental health. Each person is different, with different nutritional needs. However, some research offers insight that behavioral health providers and other clinicians might use to guide their clients’ nutritional decisions.
For example, the Molecular Psychiatry study found support for the use of a Mediterranean diet in treating depression. Generally, this diet includes relatively high consumption of olive oil, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and fish, with moderate consumption of dairy products and wine, and limited meat products.
Another 2018 study, published in the World Journal of Psychiatry, looked at the most nutrient-dense foods and how they might help prevent or mitigate depression. They found a connection between 12 “Antidepressant Nutrients” and the prevention and treatment of depressive disorders. These nutrients include:
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA)
Vitamins B6 and B12
Foods with the highest concentrations of these nutrients were found to be:
Various seafoods (including oysters and mussels)
Leafy greens and lettuces
The study authors recommended that further research examine these nutrients and foods, and that clinicians consider their dietary value in supporting clients with depression.
When you recommend a treatment for your client—whether that’s lifestyle changes, medications, or a type of psychotherapy—how do you know it’s working? Tracking outcomes is not only important for your clients, but is required in some form by various state and federal agencies. The right outcome tracking and documentation is vital for your practice’s success.
The OutcomeTools system by BestNotes helps reduce the hassle of recording and tracking outcome data. You can get OutcomeTools as a standalone tool, or as part of the BestNotes EHR solution. Contact us today to learn how OutcomeTools can help your behavioral health practice stay compliant, profitable, and effective.