Original title: Do food and nutrition have therapeutic value for disorders of mood and conation?

Authors: J, Chaudhury S, Chatterjee K, Kumar S

Source: DOI: https://doi.org/10.4103/ipj.ipj_68_22

Note: This scientific study is freely accessible to everyone and has been translated into German by me. The emphasis is mine.

What was the study about?

With this headline, a meta-analysis from India was published in May 2022, which appeared in the journal of the Association for Occupational Psychiatry in India. In my view, this is a very honest description of psychiatry’s dilemma, which is that while the use of psychotropic drugs has resulted in a significant reduction in disease burden and mortality, the authors have recognized over the years that “the mental health benefits of these medications are overshadowed by many significant side effects, the need for uncomfortably long medication regimens, and inadequate compliance, which requires considerable effort to improve adherence. Furthermore, medications may be effective in one-third of the population, while leading to relapse in half of the population.”

In other words, the disadvantages of psychotropic drugs make it increasingly difficult for practitioners to convince patients of their benefits and their use. So you look for other options.

The authors note that interest in lifestyle-related factors is steadily increasing, with nutrition in particular attracting a lot of attention. A growing body of research suggests that nutrition plays an important role not only in promoting positive mental wellbeing, but also in the treatment of mental illness.

In the following, the authors summarize the available research findings in relation to all mental illnesses as follows:

  1. Amino acids as precursors of neurotransmitters: Most mental illnesses are due to disorders/deficiencies of neurotransmitters, which are mainly synthesized by amino acids. The amino acids supplied through the diet compensate for these deficiencies and imbalances, which leads to the desired therapeutic effect. The serotonin precursor tryptophan restores serotonin and alleviates depression. Tyrosine and its precursor phenylalanine restore dopamine and noradrenaline, the substrate for alertness and arousal. The methionine product S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) promotes the production of neurotransmitters in the brain.
  2. A suitable diet can promote the formation of new brain neurons(neurogenesis): Some areas of the brain have a lifelong potential for neurogenesis, including the hippocampus and the neocortex. These areas play an active role in emotions and cognition, and defects in these areas often lead to mental illness. Considering that these areas are still capable of neurogenesis in adulthood, an appropriate diet that promotes neurogenesis can improve our cognitive reserves and prevent possible mental illness.
  3. Omega-3 fatty acids are a beneficial resource: The gray matter of the brain consists of 50 % polyunsaturated fatty acids. Around 33% of these belong to the family of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in abundance in whole fish. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids is therefore a beneficial resource for the neurogenerative process and mental well-being. A diet rich in fish and omega-3 fatty acids has a psychologically protective effect. It leads to the production of prostaglandin, leukotriene and other brain chemicals with antidepressant value. Its action via peroxisomal proliferator-activated receptors, leading to inhibition of G proteins, protein kinase C and various ion channel receptors (Ca, Na and K), has also been proposed to reduce depression. Omega-3 fatty acid products, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), can significantly reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia when used as a supplement to medication.
  4. The gut-brain axis influences mental health via nutrition: the effect is either direct via the neuronal axis or indirect via inflammatory or hormonal changes in the gut and the associated vascular system. Since the Western diet consists of processed foods, they are primarily acellular. They are therefore digested and metabolized easily and early in the intestine. This early and excessive transformation has a negative effect on the microbial environment, leading to a significant loss of bacteria that are important for the function of the microbiome, and can promote heritability through epigenetic changes. A low-fiber diet that is rich in refined sugar, artificial sweeteners and saturated fats is more likely to trigger inflammatory processes that have a negative effect on the intestinal mucosa and increase the permeability of the epithelium. This can lead to the spread of inflammatory substances via the bloodstream to distant areas, including the brain. This leads to numerous inflammatory diseases that have a detrimental effect on thinking, brain function and the blood-brain barrier. Advanced glycation end products (heat-treated foods high in processed fats and carbohydrates, breakfast cereals, etc.) promote the growth of harmful microbes, reduce beneficial microbes and increase the permeability of the colon. This diet-induced inflammation also leads to food cravings and hyperphagia, creating a vicious cycle of poor diet and poor outcomes.
  5. There are numerous studies showing that an anti-inflammatory diet reduces symptoms of mental illness. Available research suggests that the Mediterranean diet alone reduces the risk of depression by 30%. In the Mediterranean diet, which consists of unprocessed plant and animal products, the cell walls and cell membranes are intact. They pass through the intestinal lumen at the intended speed, are digested via the entire digestive tract and reach the fiber-rich large intestine. This diet appears to maintain balance and promote the growth of fiber-degrading bacteria in the colon and the production of beneficial metabolites. This is why the Mediterranean diet is naturally anti-inflammatory.
  6. B vitamins: Folic acid and vitamin supplements have been found to reduce depressive symptoms.
  7. Minerals: The intake of magnesium salts (Mg-glycinate and MG-taurinate) has led to a rapid improvement in many depressed patients within a week.

In bipolar disorder, the authors mention biochemical abnormalities that can be influenced by a change in diet and lifestyle, including

  • Hypersensitivity to acetylcholine
  • Increased vanadium
  • Reduced vitamin B and C, taurine, omega-3 fatty acids
  • Anemia (anemia)

The reason for this is explained: “Vitamin C has a protective effect on vanadium-induced brain damage. When combined with the body’s natural supply of lithium, it is found to reduce manic and depressive symptoms. Taurine, which is derived from cysteine in the liver, has a calming effect on the brain and also blocks the excess effects of acetylcholine. Other nutrients that have been shown to be effective are L-tryptophan and choline. Lithium orotate, a non-prescription dietary supplement, unlike pharmaceutical lithium, is required in much lower doses and crosses the blood-brain barrier.”

As with almost every study, the authors refer to future studies to be carried out to provide further evidence. According to the summary: “The available data show that the Mediterranean diet, unprocessed foods, omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients rich in essential amino acids and vitamins have therapeutic potential for many mental illnesses. It has been used both as a supplement and as an adjuvant with favorable results. However, whether they are a good substitute or supplement for psychotropic drugs will be determined over time by further research and empirical evidence. The mere fact that it is useful when used judiciously is cause for optimism amidst the concerns and complications of psychopharmacy mentioned above.”

Conclusion: My mood and my drive are influenced by my diet and my lifestyle! I wonder why I have to wait for more studies to confirm how helpful these strategies are. These documents are already enough for me to use them for my stability.

You can read the full text translated into German here.