Dietary Changes Can Improve Your Mental Health

Studies Indicated a Direct Tie to Poor Nutrition
And an Increased Risk for Mental Disorders

Just in time for the annual, holiday season Bad Food Choice Fest the latest issue of the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Mind, Mood and Memory reminds us all about how important good food choices are to our mental and emotional well being.

Scientist have found convincing evidence that dietary changes in developing countries over the past half-century have led to deficiencies in essential nutrients that are linked to the rise in problems of behavior and mood. lower rates of omega-3 fatty acids in the modern Western diet to higher rates of depression.

In one study published in the April 6, 2011 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists assessed 10 years of dietary data on 54,632 older women in a long-term study and found that participants who had a lower ratio of omega-3 fatty acids (found primarily in cold water fish) to omega-6 fatty acids (found in vegetable oils had high rates of depression.

“A lower ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids is associated with greater inflammatory activity, which helps explain these findings,” says David Mischoulon, MD, PHD, Director of Research and Alternative Remedy Studies at the Depression Clinic and Research Program at MGH. “This study is one of many studies that have shown an association between levels of Omega-3 and other nutrients and certain mental disorders.”

“In some cases it may not be clear what causes this association — whether mental health problems lead people to develop bad dietary practices, or whether bad dietary practices contribute to the development or worsening of mental disorders. And many other factors besides nutrition may contribute to the development of menial disorders as well. Nevertheless, it is certainly a good idea to get through medical assessment and discuss your diet with your medical care provider and/or mental health professional if you are experiencing symptoms of a mood disorder.”

A report presented at the, May, 2011, 17th Annual British Association for Counseling & Psychotherapy Research Conference in England indicated that study participants with bipolar disorder  whose diets were high in sugar and caffeine and lower in magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B had more frequent mood swings than those bipolar participants who ate a healthier, well balanced diet.  Other researchers reported a significant association between diet and schizophrenia, anxiety and attention disorder hyperactivity.


“Since deficiencies in specific vitamins and minerals, essential fats, or key amino acids have been indicated in the etiology of these mental disorders, a good way to protect menial health may be to eat a healthy diet.”
— David Mischoulon, MD, PHD,
Director of Research and Alternative Remedy Studies at the Depression Clinic and Research Program


Another nutritional strategy for protecting and/or improving menial health is limiting consumption of foods capable of adversely affecting the brain and brain functions, including:

  • Coffee, tea and other beverages and foods that contain caffeine
  • Alcohol, a central nervous  system depressant
  • Highly processed foods, which are lacking in nutrients
  • High levels of sugar and refined carbohydrates, such as white flour
  • Excessive amounts of unhealthy fats, such as trans fats, saturated fats and too much omega-6 vegetable oil
  • Foods containing high levels of chemical preservatives
  • Food whose production may involve hormones, such as some meats.

The holiday season, with its many demands can be a stressful time for woman, so as eliminate however many holiday buffet foods that are not supportive of brain health.

Try to include brain-healthy foods this holiday season  like:

  • Antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits
  • Whole grain cereals and breads, beans, low-fat dairy products and lean meats.
  • Eggs, nuts and fish.

I know its the holidays, and you have a jammed schedule, but get enough rest, and be sure to drink lots of water. Take the time to eat a real meal, at a real table. Taco Bell drive through doesn’t give you the mental break you need, even if it is on the way home from the mall.

If you have lots of parties on your schedule, you might  volunteer to be the Designated Driver; skip the soda and ask the bartender or hostess for water with a twist of lime or lemon.  That substitution helps me  keep my  healthy hydration up. Sticking with water as my primary beverage also helps me to choose foods from the healthy side of the buffet table. For me, a glass of wine begs for some of that wonderful cheese on the crusty bread, followed immediately by some yummy chocolate.  My holiday willpower teeters on a slippery slope and needs all the help it can get.

Treat yourself well this season.


Massachusetts General Hospital’s Mind, Mood and Memory: Volume 7 / Number 11 / November 2011

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: April 6, 2011


Author: H. Sandra Chevalier-Batik

I started the Inconvenient Woman Blog in 2007, and am the product of a long line of inconvenient women. The matriarchal line is French-Canadian, Roman Catholic, with a very feisty Irish great-grandmother thrown in for sheer bloody mindedness. I am a research analyst and author who has made her living studying technical data, and developing articles, training materials, books and web content. Tracking through statistical data, and oblique cross-references to find the relevant connections that identifies a problem, or explains a path of action, is my passion. I love clearly delineating the magic questions of knowledge: Who, What, Why, When, Where and for How Much, Paid to Whom. My life lessons: listen carefully, question with boldness, and personally verify the answers. I look at America through the appreciative eyes of an immigrant, and an amateur historian; the popular and political culture is a ceaseless fascination. I have no impressive initials after my name. I’m merely an observer and a chronicler, an inconvenient woman who asks questions, and sometimes encourages others to look at things differently.