Dietary nutrients are critical for brain structure and function, so they have a potentially profound impact on mental health. An increasingly robust body of research points to the detrimental effect of unhealthy diets and nutrient deficiencies, and to the protective value of healthy diets – along with select nutritional supplements as required – for maintaining and promoting mental health.
Research literature suggests dietary improvement and nutritional interventions may help reduce the risk, or even arrest the progression, of certain psychiatric disorders. Clinical studies support the use of certain nutrients, which influence a range of neurochemical activities beneficial for treating mental disorders, as medicinal supplements.
Evidence from clinical research supports the use of several nutritional medicines for certain psychiatric disorders: omega-3 fatty acids; N-acetyl cysteine (NAC); S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe); zinc; magnesium; vitamin D; and B vitamins (including folic acid). Other natural compounds such as amino acids, plant-based antioxidants and microbiotics (derived from fermented food or laboratory synthesis) are also known to influence brain health.
But while some evidence supports these natural compounds as having brain chemical-modulating effects, or having a role in treating certain mental disorders, we cannot currently name particular foods as being effective for the treatment of mental illness. The best nutritional advice at this point is to cultivate an unprocessed wholefood diet, with judicious prescriptive use of nutrients (if required) based on advice from a qualified health professional.
In the meanwhile, here are seven key nutrients that may positively influence brain health, and the foods they appear in.