Understanding Nutrition, Depression and Mental Illnesses

By Rao, T. Sathyanarayana; Asha, M. et al. | Indian Journal of Psychiatry, April-June 2008 | Go to article overview

Understanding Nutrition, Depression and Mental Illnesses


Rao, T. Sathyanarayana, Asha, M., Ramesh, B., Rao, K. Jagannatha, Indian Journal of Psychiatry


Byline: T. Sathyanarayana Rao, M. Asha, B. Ramesh, K. Jagannatha Rao

Introduction

Few people are aware of the connection between nutrition and depression while they easily understand the connection between nutritional deficiencies and physical illness. Depression is more typically thought of as strictly biochemical-based or emotionally-rooted. On the contrary, nutrition can play a key role in the onset as well as severity and duration of depression. Many of the easily noticeable food patterns that precede depression are the same as those that occur during depression. These may include poor appetite, skipping meals, and a dominant desire for sweet foods.[sup] [1] Nutritional neuroscience is an emerging discipline shedding light on the fact that nutritional factors are intertwined with human cognition, behavior, and emotions.

The most common mental disorders that are currently prevalent in numerous countries are depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).[sup] [2] The dietary intake pattern of the general population in many Asian and American countries reflects that they are often deficient in many nutrients, especially essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids.[sup] [3] A notable feature of the diets of patients suffering from mental disorders is the severity of deficiency in these nutrients.[sup] [3] Studies have indicated that daily supplements of vital nutrients are often effective in reducing patients' symptoms.[sup] [4] Supplements containing amino acids have also been found to reduce symptoms, as they are converted to neurotransmitters which in turn alleviate depression and other mental health problems.[sup] [4] On the basis of accumulating scientific evidence, an effective therapeutic intervention is emerging, namely nutritional supplement/treatment. These may be appropriate for controlling and to some extent, preventing depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders and anxiety disorders, attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), autism, and addiction.[sup] [4] Most prescription drugs, including the common antidepressants lead to side effects.[sup] [4] This usually causes the patients to skip taking their medications. Such noncompliance is a common occurrence encountered by psychiatrists. An important point to remember here is that, such noncompliant patients who have mental disorders are at a higher risk for committing suicide or being institutionalized. In some cases, chronic use or higher doses may lead to drug toxicity, which may become life threatening to the patient.[sup] [4] An alternate and effective way for psychiatrists to overcome this noncompliance is to familiarize themselves about alternative or complementary nutritional therapies. Although further research needs to be carried out to determine the best recommended doses of most nutritional supplements in the cases of certain nutrients, psychiatrists can recommend doses of dietary supplements based on previous and current efficacious studies and then adjust the doses based on the results obtained by closely observing the changes in the patient.[sup] [4]

When we take a close look at the diet of depressed people, an interesting observation is that their nutrition is far from adequate. They make poor food choices and selecting foods that might actually contribute to depression. Recent evidence suggests a link between low levels of serotonin and suicide.[sup] [5] It is implicated that lower levels of this neurotransmitter can, in part, lead to an overall insensitivity to future consequences, triggering risky, impulsive and aggressive behaviors which may culminate in suicide, the ultimate act of inwardly directed impulsive aggression.

Depression is a disorder associated with major symptoms such as increased sadness and anxiety, loss of appetite, depressed mood, and a loss of interest in pleasurable activities. …

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