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Are Diet and Mental Health Linked?

Research supports an association between specific components of diet and mental health.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians experiences mental health conditions or illness in a given year.

Approximately 50% of the population will have or have already had a mental illness by the age of forty. Mental illness significantly impacts individuals as well as society as a whole and is indiscriminate of culture, education, income level, or age.

The diet and mental health relationship

A study published in Nutrition Journal reported a relationship between diet and mental health using a 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) among a Japanese population.

An analysis of 4,701 participants was conducted for around five years based on the general health and food frequency questionnaire.

The questionnaire was to analyze the mental health status and the dietary intake of various macronutrients (carbohydrates like vegetables, fats like mono and polyunsaturated fats, and proteins like fish and chicken) and food groups like dairy products along with specific micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

The researchers reported the following were associated with good mental health:

  • protein,
  • calcium,
  • vegetables,
  • vitamin D,
  • B vitamins,
  • polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids,
  • and vitamin A or carotene.

However, consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids was linked to poor mental health.

The results of the study, therefore, suggest that consuming adequate amounts of macronutrients rich in specific micronutrients might have a significant impact on mental health.

Personalized nutrition needed

Although the research did find an association between dietary intake and mental health, it was limited to a single population (Japanese). In addition, other variables such as genetics may play a role in mental health, which were not considered in the study. Further studies need to be conducted to validate and expand on these results.

References

  1. Choda, N., Wakai, K., Naito, M. et al. Associations between diet and mental health using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire: Cross-sectional and prospective analyses from the Japan Multi-Institutional Collaborative Cohort Study. Nutr J 19, 2 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-019-0515-6
  2. Fast facts about mental health and mental illness. CMHA National. November 19, 2021. https://cmha.ca/brochure/fast-facts-about-mental-illness/.
     
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