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We are what we eat – poor nutrition contributes to mental health disorders

26 September 2017

 

A substantial body of research shows that poor nutrition is contributing to the epidemic of mental illness in western societies, Julia Rucklidge, Professor of Clinical Psychology from the University of Canterbury will tell a psychiatric conference in Tauranga today.

“The western diet is associated with poor mental health and eating a diet more akin to the Mediterranean diet improves mental health,” Professor Rucklidge said.

“Not a single study has shown that a western diet that is heavily processed, high in refined grains, sugary drinks and takeaways and low in in fresh produce is good for us.”

“A good diet is one your grandmother would recognise – high in fruit and vegetables, fish and healthy fats and low in processed foods and we know that a well-nourished body and brain is better able to withstand ongoing stress and recover from illness.”

Professor Rucklidge’s research also found that taking micronutrients can have a positive effect on the symptoms of ADHD, stress, anxiety and mood disorders.     

She says she would like to see a paradigm change whereby medication is not necessarily the first option for treatment, with lifestyle factors being addressed either first or in association with medication depending on the condition.

“Nutrition really matters and we need to get serious about the critical role nutrition plays in mental health.

“We are what we eat – how could it be any other way? Every time we put something in our mouths we can choose to offer ourselves something nutritionally deprived or something nourishing,” Professor Rucklidge said.

“The fact that New Zealanders with severe mental illness are dying 10 to 20 years earlier than other New Zealanders is due to a large degree on preventable physical illness such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and cancer,” Dr Kym Jenkins, President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) said.

“Psychiatrists have a key role to play in ensuring that people with mental illness are not further burdened by avoidable chronic physical health conditions - we need to think about the whole person and the relationship between body and mind,” she said.

Mental illness and nutrition: a new model of the aetiology of mental illness will be presented at the New Zealand Conference of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists in Tauranga from 25 to 27 September, 2017.

ENQUIRIES: Genevieve Costigan +61 3 96014964 

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is a membership organisation that prepares medical specialists in the field of psychiatry, supports and enhances clinical practice, advocates for people affected by mental illness and advises governments on mental health care. For information about our work, our members or our history, visit www.ranzcp.org.