Most people understand that if you have heart disease you should not be scarfing down greasy, cheesy, fried foods like grilled cheese sandwiches and fries. Yet, many people are not aware that mental disorders also may require special diets. In a new article, the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research encourages the recognition of diet and nutrition as central determinants for both physical and mental health.

A balanced diet, these scientists say, is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology.

Nutrition “has become a key factor for the high prevalence and incidence of very frequent mental diseases, such as depression,” Dr. Vicent Balanzá, a university lecturer and psychiatrist at La Fe University Hospital, stated in a press release. “It has been proven that the quality of diet and the deficiencies in certain essential nutrients are determining factors for physical and mental health.

What Your Brain Needs

To perform optimally, the human brain requires “an adequate intake of key nutrients, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids omega-3, essential amino acids, B-group vitamins … vitamin D, and minerals like zinc, magnesium, and iron,” Balanzá said. He points to the Mediterranean diet as providing all of these nutrients and vitamins, while advising people take nutritional supplements if they experience a deficiency.

His past research has focused on neurocognitive functioning in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, yet more recently, Balanzá has examined nutritional interventions aimed at improving cognition. The stated intention of the International Society for Nutritional Research Psychiatry — Balanzá is a key member — is to support scientifically rigorous research into nutritional approaches for both prevention and treatment of mental disorders.

Among the studies highlighted on the society’s website, one offers preliminary evidence of the effectiveness of nutrients in treating ADHD symptoms in adults. A cited article examines a review of multiple studies and finds omega-3 fatty acids may have antidepressant effects in patients with major depressive disorder, though perhaps not “mood-improving” effects for people suffering from non-clinical symptoms of depression. Another study concludes that fermented foods, such as Kimchi and sauerkraut, have beneficial effects on mental health, particularly with regard to depression, via their positive effects on gut microbiota.

“Psychiatry is at an important juncture, with the current pharmacologically focused model having achieved modest benefits in addressing the burden of poor mental health worldwide,” wrote Balanzá and his coauthors in their current article.

The “emerging and compelling evidence for nutrition as a crucial factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders,” the authors noted, suggests diet be addressed whenever seeking to cure mental illnesses.

Source: Sarris J, Logan AC, Akbaraly TN, et al. Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry. The Lancet Psychiatry. 2015.