By Sacrifice Chirisa
In developed and developing countries, people are eating a greater variety of foodstuffs than ever before. This does not follow that they are well-nourished. In fact, many people do not eat enough nutrients that are essential for good brain health especially when opting for a diet of heavily processed food containing artificial additives and sugar.
The link between poor mental health and nutritional deficiencies has long been recognised by nutritionists working in the complementary health sector.
However, psychiatrists are only now becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of using nutritional approaches to mental health. This has led to a new field in psychiatry called nutritional psychiatry.
Many mental health conditions are caused by inflammation in the brain which ultimately causes our brain cells to die. This inflammatory response starts in our gut and is associated with a lack of nutrients from our food such as magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, vitamins and minerals that are all essential for the optimum functioning of our bodies.
Recent research has shown that food supplements such as zinc, magnesium, omega 3, and vitamins B and D3 can help improve people’s mood, relieve anxiety and depression and improve the mental capacity of people with Alzheimer’s.
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals for optimal health, yet many people are lacking in it. One study found that a daily magnesium citrate supplement led to a significant improvement in depression and anxiety, regardless of age, gender or severity of depression.
Improvement did not continue when the supplement was stopped.
Omega-3 fatty acids are another nutrient that is critical for the development and function of the central nervous system and lacking it has been associated with low mood, cognitive decline and poor comprehension. Research has shown that supplements like zinc, magnesium and vitamins B and D can improve the mental capacity of people with Alzheimer’s.
The role of probiotics that is the beneficial live bacteria in your digestive system in improving mental health has also been explored by psychiatrists and nutritionists, who found that taking them daily was associated with a significant reduction in depression and anxiety. Vitamin B complex and zinc are other supplements found to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The take home message is that; a good balanced diet is essential for good mental health. In a more stressful world, one needs to do everything to keep their mental health using every strategy at our disposal.
Dr Sacrifice Chirisa is a passionate Consultant Psychiatrist at Harare Hospital Psychiatric Unit. He is also the National Secretary-General for the Zimbabwe Medical Association (ZiMA ) and a certified life and business coach.