How can nutrition contribute to the treatment of clinical depression?

With more and more people experiencing mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, it is important to find effective methods that will help with the treatment of mental health disorders, and will improve people’s quality of life. One common factor that has been shown to affect our mood, thinking and behaviour is nutrition.

It is important to understand how a healthy diet could be incorporated into treatment methods for treating people with mental health disorders like depression. Although the link between diet and physical health has long been established, the relationship between nutrition and mental health remains controversial.

A recent study, known as the SMILES trial (Jacka et al, 2017) examined whether nutritional support would alleviate the symptoms of clinical depression. Most importantly, researchers did not just provide people with a healthy eating plan, but individuals were offered advice that was personalised to their own needs and requirements, as well as, nutritional counselling support from a clinical dietician. Support included motivational interviewing and mindful eating and participants were also provided with nutritional education materials and recipes. People were encouraged to consume whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, fish, lean meats and healthy fats and were told to avoid refined and high sugary foods, and alcohol. At the end of the trial, people reported feeling significantly better after having followed the diet intervention.

This study supports the idea that nutrition could improve depressive symptoms. However, this does not mean that nutritional support could be used as a stand-alone treatment method for depression, but as a complementary method in conjunction with therapy and medication. Thus, an approach that integrates mind and body would be beneficial in treating mental health disorders and help alleviate the feelings of distress that are often caused by experiencing mental health problems.

It is also important to educate people that poor diet could potentially be a factor in triggering or sustaining poor mental health.

At EmotionMatters we embrace a mind-body approach, where counselling and psychotherapy work together with nutrition to help improve peoples’ wellbeing, mood and calm their body’s physiology, and hence their mind and thinking.


Reference: Jacka FN, O’Neil A, Opie R, Itsiopoulos C, Cotton S, Mohebbi M, Castle D, Dash S, Mihalopoulos C, Chatterton ML, Brazionis L, Dean OM, Hodge AM, Berk M. (2017) A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Medicine 2017 15:23 DOI: 10.1186/s12916-017-0791-y

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