Studies have made a connection between supplements supporting mental health and less-severe mental health issues
It is well established that nutritional intake affects physical health. What is less understood is the impact of diet and supplements supporting mental health. According to one large-scale U.K. study, there is likely a connection.
Dietary intake and severe mental illness
In this study which was published in World Psychiatry in October 2018, researchers collected data from 69,843 subjects. Of these, 15,833 had severe mental illness — either major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. The remainder had no mental illness and served as the control.
Numerous differences were found in the diets of the control group and those with the various mental health conditions. People with schizophrenia had the most differences with “highly elevated intakes” of calories, carbohydrates, sugar, fat (total and saturated), and protein when compared to the control. Individuals with bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder also had higher intakes in all these areas, though to slightly lesser degrees.
A large majority of participants in this study (68,789) also provided enough data about their diet for researchers to compare their intake of 18 different macro and micronutrients. After entering this information into the dietary inflammatory index (DII), it was noted that individuals with schizophrenia and major depressive disorder had “significantly elevated” DII scores. There was no major difference between people with bipolar disorder and those in the control.
Researchers concluded that people with severe mental illness tend to have more inflammatory diets, also consuming more obesogenic nutrients. This difference is greater in those with schizophrenia, which may be a key factor in elevated rates of metabolic disorders and premature mortality in this demographic.
Depression, anxiety and diet
Diet hasn’t just been implicated as a factor in severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar, and major depression. Other studies have made a connection between supplements supporting mental health and less-severe mental health issues. Two to consider are depression that doesn’t meet diagnostic criteria for major depression and anxiety.
For example, one systematic review of 24 independent cohorts found that when people followed a high-quality diet, their risk of depressive symptoms decreased. Individuals following a diet with a low inflammatory index also had fewer symptoms of depression. It should be noted that the depressive symptoms experienced by the study’s subjects did not rise to the level of a formal depression diagnosis.
In this particular study, no connection was found between an unhealthy diet and depression prevalence. Yet, other research contends that there is an association. A 2019 review published in Antioxidants shares that following a typical Western diet that is high in fat and includes sugar-sweetened beverages has been linked to an increased risk of both depression and depressive symptoms.
Other studies report that diet quality tends to be poorer in people with anxiety disorders. One such piece of research involved 1,634 adults who were followed for nine years. The poorer the participants’ diet quality, the greater their likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder. Poorer diet quality was also inversely rated to the severity of the anxiety symptoms.
This is important because, in the U.S. alone, 18.1% of adults and 25.1% of children between the ages of 13 and 18 have an anxiety disorder according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Additionally, 6.7% of adults have had at least one major depressive episode in the past 12 months with the two mental health issues often existing hand in hand.
Where to go from here and supplements supporting mental health
More research is needed in this area to understand precisely how diet and, perhaps more specifically, how the intake of certain macro and micronutrients impacts how we feel. But the connection is so evident through what has already been found that it has prompted a newer subfield within the psychiatric field known as nutritional psychiatry.
“Fewer people know that the vitamins and minerals entering our bodies affect our mental health, too,” writes Bryan Krumm, CNP, at the Sage Neuroscience Center. “When it comes to health and nutrition, it is truly impossible to separate our minds from our bodies. The two are inextricably linked — when one is neglected, the other may suffer. Taking vitamins that support a healthy body can also support mental health and brain function.”
While it’s difficult for studies such as those mentioned above to draw any concrete conclusions on causality, many suggest that consuming high-quality foods with any needed supplementation, and foods that don’t instigate inflammation, appears to support more optimal levels of mental health.