Mental Health and Diet



For the past couple of years, when people come to see me with depression I also look at their diet. I have long believed it is a contributory factor.  The age old tidy house tidy mind also has some bearing.  Healthy eating and sleep patterns matter.

This also shows the affect of diet on our minds. Disordered eating has greater implications. 

As figures of depression and prescriptions soar there are longer waiting lists for counselling on the nhs.  Private therapy can’t be afforded by everyone.  There are however some dietary basics we can all look at. This post makes for very interesting reading?

Could it be chicken and egg? Which came first? Lack of dietary factors or depression.

Posted by Deborah Fields



Newly released NHS figures show that the number of people living with depression in England has risen by nearly half a million people in the past three years. This brings the overall total number of people up to five million. 

Along with a rise in people living with depression comes a rise in the number of prescriptions being issued for anti-depressants. This rise is however not so surprising to many, there were signs there and this just shows the increasing burden mental health will place on society. 

The journal Nature recently looked at mental health in 30 European countries, it was found that in a normal year 165 million people or 38% of the population will be living with a full mental illness. When looking specifically at depression 30 million people are affected. This makes it the biggest burden of all human diseases. 

Although it is accepted as a large problem what more people should look at and consider is that this can all be influenced by our diet and our modern day diets are messing with our brains. 

“I’m going to make reference to a particular constituent of our diet – omega-3 fish oils. Firstly (and famously), there’s a strong correlation between a nation’s fish consumption and the prevalence of depression, meaning countries with a high intake of fish (for example, Japan) have much lower rates of depression than countries with a low intake (such as the UK).

Whilst tantalising, this type of data is mere correlation, subject to any number of ‘confounders’. However, the fact that omega-3 fish oils (EPA and DHA) are critical for the structure and function of the brain, and play a role in how neurotransmitters work, does add biological plausibility. Then, we find that patients with depression have lower levels of omega-3, and not only that, the lower the level of omega-3, the worse the depression.

Whilst the plot thickens, we need harder evidence, the sort that can only come from well-conducted randomised controlled trials (or RCTs), and that’s a bit of quagmire, as we find a mixture of both positive and negative studies on the role of omega-3 fish oils in depression. But to cut a long story short (for those wanting the whole story, we spell it out in The Health Delusion), when you put all these studies together into a ‘meta-analysis’, supplements containing the omega-3 fish oil EPA (rather than DHA) appear to be effective in improving symptoms of depression. Whilst most of us would do well to eat more oily fish generally, for those suffering with depression, there is a persuasive, if not yet conclusive, argument for considering a supplement of 1g per day of EPA (but not DHA) as part of a comprehensive treatment approach (but always to be discussed with the doctor first).

Alongside omega-3 fish oils, we could make similar (if less strong) arguments for a potential role of other nutrients in supporting our mood and mental health, such as zinc and folate. We could even extend that to the removal of deleterious dietary factors, such as trans fats, which have recently been implicated in exacerbating our mental health woes.”

With the growing number of people living with mental illness’  it’s about time that eating and nutrition were integrated into the prevention and treatment of mental health problems.


Original article can be found here: Written by Glen Matten – 20/10/12