Chew on This

Proper nutrition helps your immune system, can ease depression

Thursday afternoon is one of my favorite times at work: I meet with three third-year medical students for an engaging nutrition conversation.

I ask for their future plans of specialization and no matter what they answer, I will say nutrition is important for that area of medical intervention. And I back this statement with research. I’m sharing here what I will be talking to my students about next week.

The September 2018 issue of Neuropsychobiology published a review of the literature on the relationship between nutrition, diet and psychiatric disorders. They start with the premise that psychiatric disorders are complex, difficult to treat and can greatly reduce quality of life.

They also recognize dietary habits modulate gut bacteria, the immune system and inflammation, which is known to be involved in psychiatric disorders such as depression. While the exact mechanism of how diet effects mental health is being investigated, there is usable knowledge already available.

When it comes to food patterns, the evidence points to the Mediterranean diet for improved mental health. A 2018 review article in the Journal of Affective Disorders showed that adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet was connected to a lower risk of depression. This diet pattern includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, legumes and unsaturated fatty acids.

The Mediterranean diet has the fiber to feed the gut, the nutrient-rich anti-inflammatory vegetables and fruits and healthy fatty acids. And, sorry keto crowd, there is insufficient evidence for the use of a ketogenic diet in mental disorders.

Low levels of B vitamins, particularly folate, have been found in depressed patients. Vitamin D and zinc deficiency have also been linked to depression. That said, these authors state that “whole foods may be more effective than a supplement with isolated nutrients alone.”

Healing a multifactorial condition, like depression, requires a multifactorial approach that includes nutrition. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.