Relationship between Diet and Mental Health in a Young Adult Appalachian College Population
Mental disorders, particularly depression, account for the highest burden of global . The other aspect of the relationship between diet and mental health is the. But nearly all research involving eating habits and mental health has focused and neurotransmitters that transfer information and signals between various It will provide a quick look at the nutrient-to-calorie relationship. We systematically reviewed 12 epidemiological studies to determine whether an association exists between diet quality and patterns and mental health in.
The 20th century has seen major shifts in dietary intakes globally, with a marked increase in the consumption of sugars, snack foods, take-away foods and high-energy foods. At the same time, the consumption of nutrient and fibre-dense foods is diminishing. These changes are particularly obvious in younger cohorts. Indeed, the latest data from the Global Burden of Disease Study tells us that unhealthy diet is now the leading cause of early death. Sinceour team, and others, have led many observational studies, across countries, cultures and age groups, showing that diet matters to depression.
Better quality diets are consistently associated with reduced depression riskwhile unhealthy dietary patterns — higher in processed foods — are associated with increased depression and often anxiety. You can read more about some of these studies herehere and here. This even seems to be the case right at the start of life. We led a very large study of more than 20, mothers and their children that showed that the children of mothers who ate an unhealthier diet during pregnancy had higher level of behaviours that are linked to mental disorders.
This finding has since been replicated in two other large cohort studies. This is consistent with what we see in animal experiments where unhealthy diets fed to pregnant animals results in many changes to the brain and behaviour in offspring.
This is very important to understand if we want to think about preventing mental disorders in the first place. You can read more about this in our article on Diet in Pregnancy. It is important to note that, at this stage, most of the existing data come from observational studies, where it is difficult to tease apart cause and effect.
Eating well and mental health
Of course, the possibility that the associations are explained by reverse causality — in other words, mental ill health promoting a change in diet rather than the other way around — is an important one to consider. Most of the published prospective studies have investigated this and largely ruled it out and, in fact, we published a study last year suggesting that a past experience of depression was associated with better diets over time.
However, Nutritional Psychiatry is still lacking data from intervention studies due to the recency of the field; these sorts of studies are important in determining causality.
There have been two very intriguing intervention studies in the last twelve months suggesting that dietary modification may prevent depression. In the first study, data from the very large PREDIMED intervention were investigated; this study was designed to examine whether adopting a Mediterranean-style diet, which we know is a very healthy way of eating, would reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in older adults with heart disease risk factors such as obesity and diabetes.
This study showed that, indeed, a Mediterranean diet did protect against cardiac events and this important finding was published in the NEJM.
They realised that the sample size around people was too small to really be able to investigate the hypothesis properly — given the relatively early age of onset for depression, you need samples sizes in the tens of thousands to truly look at prevention of depression.
However, even with their small sample size they were able to show a strong trend for the prevention of new cases of depression for those adopting a Mediterranean diet with nuts and this prevention effect was clearly significant for those with type 2 diabetes. In a large observational study from the US we have also shown that the potential protective effect of healthy diet on depression seems to be particularly pronounced in those with diabetes.
Similarly, in a recent prevention study in the US, the investigators wanted to examine the potential of a form of psychotherapy to reduce the risk of clinical depression in older adults who were already suffering from some depressive symptoms. We know that, on average, people with elevated depressive symptoms are approximately four and a half times more likely to go onto develop full-blown clinical depression over the course of one year compared to people without such symptoms.
What we urgently now need are more intervention studies testing the efficacy of dietary improvement as a treatment for depression. However, such trials, of course, have many difficulties associated with them. Unfortunately, just like an expensive car, your brain can be damaged if you ingest anything other than premium fuel. Diets high in refined sugars, for example, are harmful to the brain.
Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression. Today, fortunately, the burgeoning field of nutritional psychiatry is finding there are many consequences and correlations between not only what you eat, how you feel, and how you ultimately behave, but also the kinds of bacteria that live in your gut. How the foods you eat affect how you feel Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain.
These bacteria play an essential role in your health. Studies have shown that when people take probiotics supplements containing the good bacteriatheir anxiety levels, perception of stress, and mental outlook improve, compared with people who did not take probiotics.
Scientists account for this difference because these traditional diets tend to be high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, and fish and seafood, and to contain only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy. This is consistent with previous studies showing rates of food insecurity on college campuses to be much higher than the national average [ 2337 ].
This is of concern for college campuses, as food insecurity has been linked to poorer physical and mental health [ 5678910 ]. These studies have hypothesized that food insecurity may be adding additional stress, contributing to worse mental health, and that food insecurity leads to lower dietary quality, providing the brain with less key nutrients for optimal function.
Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food - Harvard Health Blog - Harvard Health Publishing
The causes of this relationship need to be further determined, however the current body of knowledge has implications for current action by policymakers. Dietary interventions have shown that providing access to healthy foods can improve mental health symptoms, and thus interventions for this population should aim to provide healthy foods required for improved mental health [ 383940 ].
In a study that examined a fruit and vegetable intervention on young adults, only those who were provided with a supply of fresh fruits and vegetables showed a significant increase in fruit and vegetable consumption and overall well-being [ 38 ]. Another study that provided tools and foods to depressed patients to follow a Mediterranean diet showed improvements in depression and anxiety symptoms and high adherence to the diet, even sustained at 6 months [ 39 ].
This highlights the importance of providing access to the healthy foods to enable individuals to adhere to a healthy diet. Thus, alleviating food insecurity on college campuses should be a priority in order to improve the well-being of students.
This study adds to the body of work showing health disparities faced by Appalachia and the factors contributing to the mental health status of college students and provides a potential solution for improving their mental health. There are a few limitations to the present study. First, we used self-reported mental health days rather than asking respondents if they have received a mental health diagnosis by a professional, because not all individuals with mental health disorders have received a medical diagnosis.
The intention was to better capture data from those with symptoms of a mental health disorder. In addition, the DSQ includes items in the fruit and vegetable domain that are not healthy sources of fruits and vegetables, including fried potatoes and salsas, and thus were removed from the score in this study.
This study focused on fruits and vegetables because they are considered to be indicative of overall diet quality [ 30 ], and on added sugars because of their evidence of being detrimental to mental health [ 3233 ]. However, this study did not examine meat and saturated fats, which may be detrimental for mental health as well. Another limitation of the DSQ is that it accounted for frequency of consumption, or times per day, and not volume of consumption.Diet and Depression: A Better Plan for Mental Health?
Food insecurity was determined using a self-reported tool and is thus a perception, which may not reflect true food insecurity, and may not take into account other factors that cause a poor diet.
The data used in this study was collected from one university, and thus may not be applied to every college environment in Appalachia. Student major was not accounted for, which could contribute to the stress of students as well as their health knowledge, potentially altering their behavior. Future work will include the use of a validated diagnostic tool, such as the Patient Health Questionnaire, and Beck Anxiety Inventory. In addition, the diet quality will be better screened for using a tool that encompasses a variety of foods with quantities consumed measured.
Finally, data will be collected from multiple Appalachian college campuses. To conclude, this study gathered data on a population that is understudied, despite their high risk for poor health due to low healthy food access, low socioeconomic status, and a high stress college environment. This study added data on the frequency and contributors to mental health symptoms in young adults on an Appalachian college campus. These individuals are at an important life-stage, where optimal physical and mental function is required to succeed.
Identifying areas of need for this population is important to inform interventions. The results of this study are important to show that providing access to affordable healthy foods can improve the rates of mental health disorder symptoms in this environment. Access to healthy foods and dietary quality are associated with mental health, and these factors are modifiable. Improving these factors can improve the mental health of students, and thus may enhance their academic success.