“We already have a lot of evidence about the links between nutrition and mental health, and preliminary evidence suggests that improving the quality of one’s food can help some people with depression feel better.
Nutrition is becoming increasingly important in mental care. ” Anu Ruusunen, a postdoctoral researcher and clinical nutritionist, states:
Ruusunen is an adjunct professor of nutrition who specializes in psychiatric illnesses, and her research focuses on the links between nutrition and mental health.
She works as a nutritionist at the Department of Psychiatry at Kuopio University Hospital and as a university lecturer at the Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition at the University of Eastern Finland.
She also worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Deakin University in Australia’s Food & Mood Center, which is a leader in nutritional psychiatry. She’s still involved in some of the center’s research projects that look at how nutrition can help people with mental health problems.
Inflammation-fighting foods for the gut microbiome
According to studies, diets that follow nutrition guidelines, such as those designed to prevent heart disease and cancer, are also excellent for one’s mood, mental health, and brain health.
A diet rich in vegetables, berries, and fruit of various colors, whole grain products, legumes, nuts, fatty fish, and unsaturated fats, such as plant oils, promotes mental well-being. Many changes linked to mental health illnesses, such as low-grade inflammation and oxidative stress, can be protected by eating this way.
There’s also some preliminary evidence of the diet’s impact on neuroplasticity. Dietary patterns that are in line with nutrition guidelines have been associated with a larger hippocampal volume. Memory and learning, as well as emotions, are all influenced by the hippocampus. “
Many dietary impacts are mediated by gut microorganisms; the food we eat influences which microbes thrive in our gut, as well as the types of substances they create and release into various pathways.
Gut microorganisms make neurotransmitters and send signals to the brain through the nervous system, among other things, to communicate with each other and the brain.
These systems are influenced favorably by a plant-based diet, which is high in polyphenols, vitamin C, folate, and fiber, among other nutrients. Polyphenols are plant metabolites that, like vitamin C, operate as antioxidants. Eating a variety of vegetables and berries of various colors, ideally rich in color, will ensure a diverse intake of polyphenols.
Whole grains, legumes, dark green vegetables, and cabbages are high in folate. Short-chain fatty acids are produced by gut microorganisms as a result of fiber processing, which helps to reduce inflammation.
For example, omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, vegetable oils, and nuts, for example, help to reduce inflammation. When the stress regulation system is overworked, they lower levels of cortisol, which is a hormone that tells the body to deal with stress.
Taking an omega-3 supplement with an antidepressant may help people who have a hard time getting better, according to the Finnish Current Care Guidelines for Depression.
Deficiencies in certain nutrients, such as folate and vitamin B12, have been related to depression.
Both of these are required for serotonin and other neurotransmitter synthesis. This is why depressed patients are frequently given a blood test to determine their folate and vitamin B12 levels. Ruusunen explains: “Vitamin D or iron deficiency can also cause mental weariness and a bad mood.
“The primary goal is to increase the quality of the food, but supplements are also used to cure vitamin shortages.
Even without a blood test, a regular multivitamin supplement can be prescribed if a person’s diet is deficient in variety and their nutritional intake is inadequate. Supplements, on the other hand, must always be used for a valid purpose.
Regular meals are the foundation of a healthy diet.
Ruusunen’s doctoral research from 2013 looked into the link between diet and depression risk. The researchers looked at the diets of over 2,000 middle-aged men in Eastern Finland and followed up on their health for over 20 years. According to the findings, people who ate a nutritious diet had a lower risk of depression.
Similar findings have been made in various populations and age groups since then. Improvements in nutrition quality have also been demonstrated to lessen depressive symptoms in patients with depression in intervention studies. “
Ruusunen is a part of the study team for the Food for the Mind project, which is now underway in Eastern Finland and is looking into the effects of strength-centered nutrition rehabilitation in the treatment of depression.
Patients with depression who took vitamin D supplements were also going to see the results of a randomized controlled study at Kuopio University Hospital soon.
The key question is how to encourage lifestyle changes when someone’s resources are limited, they’re weary, and coping with day-to-day living is difficult.
People’s financial situations can be dire, and the prospect of going to the market or preparing a meal can be overwhelming. Some people lose their appetite, while others gain it. We can come up with actual answers to these problems in collaboration with patients. “
According to a recent meta-analysis published by Ruusunen and international colleagues, food insecurity affects up to 40% of people with serious mental health illnesses such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.Food insecurity can refer to a lack of funds for food as well as a lack of variety or irregular eating habits.
Mental health conditions can lead to weight gain and an increased risk of lifestyle illnesses in some people, which can be exacerbated by certain drugs. Antipsychotic medications, in particular, enhance hunger while decreasing satiety.
Rapid weight gain may potentially jeopardize treatment adherence. It would be ideal if a dietician and a physical therapist could work together to support the patient’s treatment from the start. There are already examples of similar therapy methods in use around the world.
Regular meals, beginning with breakfast, can help to activate the mind and body while also giving you control over your eating. Ruusunen is attempting to re-establish a regular eating rhythm with many of her clients.
“First and foremost, we’re discussing what might be added to the client’s life or diet to improve their well-being and support their coping and healing.”
Psychotic symptoms and bipolar disorder are being studied with the ketogenic diet.
The ketogenic diet’s potential for treating brain diseases and mental health illnesses has piqued people’s interest in recent years.
The ketogenic diet severely restricts carbohydrate intake while allowing for a higher-than-normal fat intake. This causes the body to go into ketosis, which is a fasting-like state in which the brain mostly uses ketones for energy.
“The ketogenic diet is already a validated and licensed treatment for severe epilepsy, albeit not all of the reasons for its effectiveness are understood. Among other factors, the effects appear to be linked to mitochondrial activity, “Ruusunen explains.
Mitochondria are the cells’ powerhouses, and the ketogenic diet kicks their performance up a notch. Mitochondrial problems can cause a wide range of illnesses, including schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.
“The ketogenic diet has been shown in certain studies to help people with schizophrenia reduce their symptoms quickly.” This conclusion, however, has yet to be confirmed in a randomized controlled experiment, which is exactly what we’ll be conducting here in Kuopio.
If the ketogenic diet has a therapeutic effect, it could open up new treatment options, particularly for patients who have had a poor response to medication. Due to a lack of data, the diet cannot be suggested for treating schizophrenia symptoms.
The ketogenic diet will be tested in a six-week pilot study on inpatients with psychotic symptoms who have been admitted to the hospital.
It’s not simple to combine the ketogenic diet, which is difficult to follow, with a serious disease. However, doing so in a hospital setting is easier than doing it at home.
The ketogenic diet should always be followed under the direction and guidance of a medical practitioner. A comparable study for people with bipolar disorder will begin at Deakin University. “
Psychobiotics are also being studied as a treatment for anorexia nervosa.
When it comes to the connection between nutrition, gut microorganisms, and mental health, more research is needed.
For example, researchers discovered that the gut microbiome of anorexia nervosa patients differs from that of healthy people, although it is unclear if this is the cause or the result.
“The microbiota of people with anorexia nervosa has been reported to vary in various studies. Their microbiomes, for example, contain bacteria that are uncommon in healthy people, as well as fewer microorganisms that create crucial short-chain fatty acids.
This isn’t surprising, given that nutrition has been shown to affect the composition of the gut microbiome, and we know how anorexics’ eating habits are frequently affected.
Ruusunen is interested in how gut microorganisms affect anorexia nervosa recovery and how this might be factored into nutritional therapy. The ReGut project, which is being carried out in partnership with Australian partners, is looking into this.
“There are significant disparities in energy and nutrient absorption between people with anorexia nervosa, which might hypothetically be explained by different microorganism strains.
In a hospital setting, for example, two patients who consume the same number of calories from their food may find it easier to regain their weight than the other.Microbes may potentially have a role in anorexia nervosa-related gastrointestinal issues, as well as mood, anxiety, and behavioral symptoms. “
“We’re interested in learning whether the gut microbiota’s makeup can predict recovery and whether the gut microbiome can be modified to aid recovery.”
In a recent review study, researchers looked at the possible benefits of fermented foods in the treatment of anorexia nervosa.
Fermented foods, such as fermented milk products, kombucha, fermented vegetables, and soya products, include probiotics (gut-friendly bacteria) or prebiotics (compounds that help beneficial gut bacteria work better).
“These haven’t been researched much in anorexia nervosa, but they should be based on our review.”
Regular meals, adequate energy intake to restore nutritional status and weight, eating a variety of foods, learning flexible eating, and addressing anorexic ideas are all important aspects of nutritional therapy for anorexia nervosa. Food that promotes gut health will eventually be studied to see if it should also be suggested to aid recovery. “
The fact that a new term has been established for probiotics and prebiotics that have a good effect on mental health via the gut speaks loudly about the growing interest in the topic: psychobiotics.
There has already been some research into probiotic supplements in the treatment of depression, with some promising results. More evidence, however, is required. In theory, a diet high in fiber, colorful vegetables, and fermented foods may be considered psychobiotic.
Nutritional therapy for mental health illnesses is being developed and taught.
According to Ruusunen, food is merely one of several pillars of mental health, and it can help with the treatment of mental illnesses.
For many people, pharmacotherapy is necessary, and psychotherapy and counseling are also necessary. Other lifestyle factors, including sleep, stress management, and physical activity, are vital in addition to nutrition. During a consultation with a dietician, these are also discussed.
Ruusunen has been involved in the creation of nutritional therapy for patients with mental health illnesses, as well as teaching it to future dietitians and nutritionists, in addition to doing research.
Being hired for a newly established nutritionist position at Kuopio University Hospital soon after my Ph.D. was like winning the lottery. Working with patients has helped me better comprehend people’s various circumstances and treatment issues, both from a scientific standpoint.
“My teaching goal is to provide dietetics and nutrition students with the skills they need to address this topic. When I was a student, the nutritional issues that people with mental health disorders face, and how to overcome them, were not widely discussed.