Nutrition for Mental Health

Your brain never switches off, it is working and consuming energy even when you are asleep. It is responsible for regulating your breathing, heartbeat, senses,  thoughts and movements.  Hence, it requires a constant supply of nutrients for fuel, all derived from the foods that you eat. To put it in simple terms, "you are what you eat".  The nutrients that you derive from your diet directly affects the structure of every cell in your body, including your brain cells (neurons) and their function which in turn affects your ability to think and your mood. Your brain functions at its best when it gets optimum levels of nutrients from foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins and antioxidants to protect cells from oxidative stress and inflammation.

Diets that are high in refined processed carbohydrates are harmful to brain cells by promoting inflammation and oxidative stress. Several studies have found that diets high in refined carbohydrates and sugars are associated  with impaired brain function, and are correlated with mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Wheat lectins from the common wheat that we consume every day can damage epithelial cells and mucous membranes causing inflammation,. Read this e-book sample: The dark side of wheat for a review of the evidence of the toxicity of wheat.

To this day, despite a multitude of scientific studies that have demonstrated the link between diet and mental health, the medical field continues to resist to acknowledge the connection between mood and diet. It is commonsense that if your brain lacks nutrients, or if circulating free radicals cause inflammation something 's got to give. Not surprisingly the incidence of ADHD, Autism, Depression, Anxiety, Diabetes, Cancer and the other modern non-communicable diseases are all rising to the point that in 2011, Dr. Margaret Chan, a former Director General of the Wealth Health Organisation  called it a "slow motion Catastrophe, an impending disaster". She pointed at a lifestyle of highly refined processed foods as the culprits that drove the epidemic.

Nutrients for Psychiatric Disorders

Nutritional Psychiatry is an emerging field that promotes the existing scientific knowledge that there are direct correlations between what you eat and how you feel and behave. 

Nutrient Neurotransmitter Precursors
Neurotransmitters and Nutrients

The diagram illustrates the role of nutrients in the manufacture of neurotransmitters in the brain. Gut organisms (bacteria), mainly E-Coli break down proteins to make amino acids Tryptophan, Phenylalanine and Tyrosine amongst others. These then get converted by enzymes produced by genes (large blue arrows) to make the neurotransmitters (messenger chemicals). Note that each enzyme has specific nutrient co-factors, without which the enzyme cannot function

  • Tryptophan gets converted to Serotonin, which helps regulate peristalsis (bowel movement), appetite, mood and pain. Serotonin gets converted to Melatonin which regulates sleep.  
  • Phenylalanine and Tyrosine get converted to Dopamine and Norepinephrine which are involved in focus concentration and lack of distractibility.

Hence these nutrients are vital for brain function.   Now you can see why it makes sense to optimise the levels of these nutrients to promote brain function and reduce psychiatric symptoms.

The brains of patients with depression or anxiety are not lacking drugs, they lack nutrients.

For more information on this topic, please see: Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry, Sarris J, et al. Lancet Psychiatry. 2015

Although the field of Nutritional Psychiatry is relatively new, there are both observational data regarding the association between diet quality and mental health across countries, and controlled studies showing that diet and nutrients have a significant and large impact on mental health, as shown in the links below:  



Intervention studies that show dietary improvement prevent depression:


Diet and mental health outcomes in children:


Diet and brain plasticity:

I addition to these papers, you will find thousands of others about the benefits of nutrients such as zinc, magnesium Vit D3, Vit B, Fish Oils, if you search for the nutrient name and the disorder such as "ADHD and Zinc" (15,400 results) Will only yield scientific studies or papers from universities and hospitals and will weed out the sales pitches.