A recent blog post on the GoodTherapy.org site featured this article: “Can Social Anxiety Be Caused by a Nutritional Deficiency?”. I was thrilled to have been quoted and to have shared my experience with pyroluria, a form of social anxiety, shyness and inner tension, that responds very well to the supplements vitamin B6, zinc and evening primrose oil. It was also a wonderful opportunity to get folks thinking about the role that food and nutrients play in mental health.
I was rather surprised by this comment from Nerina Garcia-Arcement, a licensed clinical psychologist and clinical assistant professor at the NYU School of Medicine: “Having a healthy and balanced diet is overall beneficial, but it won’t cure social anxiety or a mood disorder. I am more likely to recommend my clients get enough sun exposure to improve their moods (seasonal affective disorder) than recommend diet changes.”
I certainly support the recommendation for sun exposure and write this blog post to provide additional resources for those who may be unfamiliar with the recent food mood research. And I will address pyroluria, zinc and vitamin B6 in a separate post.
Here is just some of the 2012 food mood research:
Dias GP, Cavegn N et al. 2012. The role of dietary polyphenols on adult hippocampal neurogenesis: molecular mechanisms and behavioural effects on depression and anxiety. 2012. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity Epub 2012 Jun 28
“Studies on the effects of dietary polyphenols” (such as those found in green tea and turmeric), “on behaviour and AHN” (adult hippocampal neurogenesis), “may play an important role in the approach to use diet as part of the therapeutic interventions for mental-health-related conditions.”
Michalak J, Zhang XC et al. 2012 Vegetarian diet and mental disorders: results from a representative community survey. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Jun 7;9(1):67. [Epub ahead of print]
“Vegetarians displayed elevated prevalence rates for depressive disorders, anxiety disorders and somatoform disorders.” The authors also state that because “vegetarians exhibit a wide diversity of dietary practices, future research should more carefully define vegetarian diet to enable closer examination of the associations between diet and risk of mental disorders.” Since this was an epidemiological study, it shows association only. But it’s a great start.
Davison KM, Kaplan BJ. 2012. Nutrient Intakes Are Correlated With Overall Psychiatric Functioning in Adults With Mood Disorders. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. 57:85-92
This study looked at Canadian adults with mood disorders. Intake of carbs, fiber, total fat, linoleic acid, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B6, B12, pantothenic acid, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, magnesium and zinc were measured and “higher levels of nutrients equated to better mental health.” (This study was included on my poster presentation at the 2012 Anxiety Disorders Association of America conference)
One of the study authors, Dr Kaplan, PhD was quoted as saying: “Doctors should consider counseling their patients to eat unprocessed, natural, healthy foods and refer them to a nutrition professional if specialized dietary consultation is needed.”
Torres SJ, Nowson CA. 2012. A moderate-sodium DASH-type diet improves mood in postmenopausal women. Nutrition. Sep;28(9):896-900. Epub 2012 Apr 4.
“In addition to the health benefits of a moderate-sodium Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet on blood pressure and bone health, this diet had a positive effect on improving mood in postmenopausal women.” This diet did include lean red meat, which “was associated with a decrease in depression.”
Dr Felice Jacka, an Australian researcher, has a number of papers that I’ve blogged about in the past. A more recent one from 2011 looked at Norwegian adult men and women, and found that “those with better quality diets were less likely to be depressed” and that a “higher intake of processed and unhealthy foods was associated with increased anxiety.”
In a recent bipolar post, I also mention some of the research around eating a real food traditional diet and a lower risk of bipolar disorder, and the relationship between gluten and bipolar disorder.
All in all, there is much recent evidence pointing to some very real benefits for making dietary changes in order to improve mental health outcomes. Clearly, more research is needed, but we have growing evidence that the food mood connection is NOT “just a bunch of hooey” (as one of the readers stated) and we need to keep our minds open if we are to help those in need of our services!