Okay, I admit it. I am sitting here eating chocolate but, hey, that's what got me thinking about this subject. All in the name of research, right?
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence of a relationship between food and mood. How many of us freely admit that we reach for the chocolate when we feel stressed or upset and swear it makes us feel so much better?
Certainly, the evidence regarding chocolate seems promising. Several of the ingredients of chocolate impact on the chemical messengers in our brain. Tryptophan, used by the brain to produce serotonin, can lead to feelings of elation. Chocolate also contains phenylethylamine, high levels of which stimulate the brain's pleasure centres.
All good. Where it comes a little unstuck, however, is that chocolate only contains small amounts of these ingredients and arguably huge amounts would need to be consumed to have any significant effect. Of course, eating large amounts of chocolate brings on a whole new set of consequences!
However, further research into the relationship between mood and food does suggest that eating the right foods may improve mental health.
Reports by UK group The Mental Health Foundation in conjunction with Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, review the evidence linking trends in food consumption with mental ill-health and puts forward the case for an integrated approach to the treatment of mental health problems, identifying nutrition as a key component.
It is important to note that the reports are written with a general audience in mind. The studies reviewed are not evaluated as to their scientific merit and may be of variable quality. At best, they may only be suggestive of a link between mental health and nutrition.
The reports in full can be found below:
Changing Diets, Changing Minds
The Mental Health Foundation provides a list of potential nutritional deficiencies potentially associated with various conditions, including zinc, magnesium, B, C and E vitamins, folic acid, iron and omega-3 and outlines foods containing these vitamins, minerals and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Foods to help manage mental well-being
Additionally, I came across the The Food and Mood Project, backed by the UK mental health charity Mind, which is campaigning to change behaviour to increase the use of diet in the care, treatment and promotion of mental health. The website contains useful resources for those interested, although please note that some resources come at a cost and I have not reviewed those.
Interestingly, a survey of 200 people undertaken by the Project found that 88% reported that changing their diet improved their mental health significantly. 26% per cent said they had seen large improvements in mood swings, 26% in panic attacks and anxiety and 24% in depression. It sounds promising but, again, the quality of this study has not been verified.
While this post is not intended to suggest that the prevention or management of mental disorders is as simple as making changes to diet, perhaps diet is another weapon to be added to the armoury in combatting mental disorders. Simply food for thought....