Why Diet Might Be a Big Deal for Mental Health

Why Diet Might Be a Big Deal for Mental Health

[ ♪INTRO ] When it comes to physical health, mountains
of evidence will tell you that a healthy diet is important. And it is. But a growing body of research is showing
that diet is important for mental health, too. And before you click away, no, I’m not about
to show you 10 superfoods to cure your depression! or anything. Mental health is way more complicated than
that, and everything from your genetics to your environment can affect it. But there is some evidence that diet also
plays a role here. Studies have found a link between what people
eat and their risk of mental illness — even when it comes to the severity of their symptoms. And if diet contributes to these conditions,
well, maybe it can help treat them, too. There are all kinds of studies showing how
diet and mental health are related. Some focus on food in general — like a 2013
meta-analysis, which found that diets high in fruit, vegetables, fish, and whole grains
may be associated with a reduced risk of depression. But other studies have found something more
specific. They’ve reported that, when it comes to
mental health, it’s not just about having a generally “healthy” or “unhealthy”
diet. Instead, specific nutrients are sometimes
involved. For example, in a 2017 paper, researchers
used data from a long-term health study to look at older adults diagnosed with depression. And they found that participants’ levels
of vitamins B12, B6, and folate all decreased in the year leading up to their diagnosis. Several other studies have also found that
participants with depression and schizophrenia tended to have lower levels of folate than
the general population. Admittedly, this relationship is based on
correlations, which means they don’t say a nutrient caused anything. But it seems like there could be something
going on here. And if so, there’s a pretty good explanation
for why: Those nutrients all act as antioxidants. During daily life, chemical reactions in your
body can split oxygen molecules into atoms with unpaired electrons, which are called
free radicals. Without a second electron, these free radicals
are unstable, so they scavenge other cells to find an electron to pair with. That puts the body under stress and can ultimately
cause inflammation or other damage. Antioxidants are molecules that fight that
stress by handing over their own electrons without becoming unstable themselves. What does that have to do with mental health? Well, there’s a lot of evidence for a link
between certain mental health symptoms and inflammation. The link is especially strong for depression,
but papers have found some support for this connection with ADHD, schizophrenia, and bipolar
disorder as well. The research is ongoing, but the general idea
seems to be that inflammatory molecules may affect how chemicals are released in the brain. In any case, the relationship has come up
enough that some researchers have wondered if giving a patient nutrient supplements that
fight inflammation could help ease their symptoms. And amazingly, it might — at least, in some
cases. In September 2019, a huge meta-review was
published in World Psychiatry, and it took a big-picture look at nutritional supplements
and mental health conditions. Now, a meta-review is a re-analysis of the
data from a bunch of meta-analyses, which themselves are re-analyses of the data from
a bunch of individual studies. So suffice it to say, this paper looked at
a ton of data. And what it found was kind of encouraging. For one, it found that folate — which fights
inflammation — was helpful for depression symptoms when it was used as an add-on to
existing treatment. It also found emerging evidence that a kind
of antioxidant amino acid could be a useful treatment for depression, schizophrenia, and
bipolar disorder. The big stars of the paper, though, were omega-3s,
which are types of fatty acids with anti-inflammatory properties. There are a bunch of them, but the most effective
one in this review was EPA. In the paper, there was some evidence that
omega-3 supplements helped with ADHD. And there was a bunch of evidence that they
helped with depression. Like, these supplements were demonstrated
to reduce depressive symptoms in people with major depressive disorder over 13 studies
involving more than 1200 participants. That’s a lot of participants! Especially for psych research! Now, one thing this review didn’t say was
that all supplements are effective all the time. Like, it didn’t find that omega-3s were
helpful for schizophrenia or other mental illnesses. And despite what smaller studies have found,
the review found little evidence for the effectiveness of zinc, magnesium, or vitamin C or E supplements. Vitamin D even fell short, although the authors
noted that there is some growing evidence that it could help treat depression. Overall, the authors say we need more research
examining individual nutrients and their effects on specific mental illnesses. But the takeaway is that supplements could
be really helpful for some patients, depending on their situation. Of course, there’s also a big thing to keep
in mind here: Even for the nutrients that showed promise, these supplements are not
a cure-all. Diet is only one potential factor in someone’s
mental health, and it’s completely possible to have a nutrient-rich diet and a mental
illness. Like I said earlier, mental health is complicated. And just because supplements could help doesn’t
mean they’re the only way to get help. Ultimately, those kinds of decisions are up
to a person and their doctor. If nothing else, though, this kind of research
does remind us that our brains aren’t separate from the rest of our bodies. And eating a healthy diet is likely one way
to take care of them both. If you want to learn more about mental health,
you might enjoy our episode about how there’s more than one type of bipolar disorder. But as always, thanks for watching this episode
of SciShow Psych! We know there’s a lot of content online
these days, and we’re thankful you’re spending some of your time getting smarter
with us. [ ♪OUTRO ]

100 thoughts on “Why Diet Might Be a Big Deal for Mental Health

  1. People with severe mental illnesses live on average 15 year shorter than average. If eating healthier gives a few more years, it's also a win.

  2. All I know is I was happier when I ate garbage everyday.
    Ok, not true, but I am happier when I think about the garbage I used to eat.

  3. Yup, full disclaimer I'm not a doctor etc etc. but I find that taking multivitamins daily makes a significant improvement to my mental health 🙂

  4. Still waiting for the science to reflect just how much bad parenting can permanently ruin a persons chances for dodging or minimizing mental illness. You can definitely raise somebody the wrong way, and either encourage existing genetic factors for mental illness or create new environmental factors for mental illness. I feel like parents get a pass from society on all the damage they cause, and while most parents would love to claim "unintentional", I think the sad truth is that they just don't care all the time, or in some cases, don't care in general. Society treats parents like saints by virtue of having reproduced, but not everybody should be a parent, and some parents actively contribute to society's woes through their shitty parenting.

  5. Who decides what mental state is healthy? It's entirely subjective. Perhaps being passive and thinking "everything is just fine" is an unhealthy mental state. "Curing" one's mental state is impossible, you're just changing it to something you personally find more suitable

  6. One common factor that seems to keep coming up is inflammation. And the simplest view makes a lot of sense. inflammation means swelling, and swelling can impede the transport of liquid. Inflammation in the brain can block its sewer/drain system, especially important during relaxed deep sleep. Crap builds up, causes more inflammation, vicious circle. Brain cells can't get rid of their waste, wither, die. So keep your pipes clean ! 🙂

  7. I changed my diet drastically about 6 months ago and I noticed a huge difference in mood. I don't feel nearly as depressed or anxious as I did before.

  8. Ok here is a doozy. Anti-seizure medications (antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) which are used to treat Bipolar 1 and 2, as well as other mental health disorders, can cause folate deficiency anaemia. Yep so based on this video this makes us extra screwed. Next time I get anaemia I will mention this video to my GP

  9. Wow, that's crazy, a couple of years ago I had like, a MASSIVE depression that lasted for, at least, 3 years. And the year before that, even just a couple of month, my doctor noticed, after a blood test, that my folate was incredibly low, for reason that we don't know, but I had to be careful (somehow).

    And the year after my depression, blood test again, and my "level" of folate was back to normal.

  10. That's so interesting when I was in inpatient for depression and psychosis we found out I had low levels of folate because my body had a hard time producing it so they started giving me methyl-folate and it helped along with the other meds they were giving me.

  11. I have a severe neuropathology since childhood. We don't know exactly what it is, but I've noticed that I have to be super strict with my diet or pandemonium begins.
    So, eat healthy.

  12. Before going on antidepressants, my doctor had me on vitamins D3 and B12 (since I was deficient in both). While I did feel better, it wasn't 100% so we moved on from there. So I can personally attest to a food-mental health link. Great video

  13. Great video. I truly believe in this stuff. I believe that we eat too many foods with either too little micronutrients or we eat too many with anti-nutrients negating the effect of nutrient rich foods.

    Grains need to be sprouted or fermented and you need to feed your gut microbiome with prebiotic foods. Without these some people will become deficient.

  14. 0:19 to be fair, antioxidant-rich foods are like the canonical "superfood".

    Good thing there's 5 other minutes of this video about those scare quotes!

  15. Just a reminder that what’s good for your brain may not be always good for other organs in your body! That’s the tricky part!

  16. Why isn't there a yearly recommended, nay I say, required mental health exam?
    A mentally healthy society will both save and earn billions more dollars each year!
    Seems like we want to be nuts
    Think about it,
    if we even can..

  17. I tried a diet low in inflammatory foods, and it was so complicated that my anxiety got noticeably worse! I think it’s because I had to think about my food so much. I had more energy without all the junk sugar and heavy carbs, but the worsened anxiety blew, and whole food diets get really expensive really fast.

  18. The thing is that, we can't change our genetics and environment so easily, but we can change our diet relatively easily.

  19. yeah my psychiatrist started prescribing me omega 3, and other supplements along with the common medication for chronic depression, not sure if I see any difference yet, then again he only prescribed it to me recently. Here's hopping it will do something

  20. Now… everyone…. sing along with me… 🎼 Correlation is not causation…🎶. Seriously… did it ever occur to you that depression limits food choices? It’s hard to cook healthy when you’re depressed smart-A. 🙄

  21. I was actually hoping for ten super foods that will help with depression…. But at least you confirm that I really do feel better when I eat more fruit. Vegies are too hard, need cooking / keeping fresh… but you can freeze bananas, passionfruit pulp, pineapple. Still experimenting.

  22. Huh. I have arthritis and depression. I figured it was chronic pain that caused the depression, but maybe the inflammation contributed, too. Anyhow, guess I should add some fish oil to my regimen.

  23. daily reminder to take your meds, take your vitamins, and eat like maybe one vegetable or maybe some fruit if you can get to it today thanks also GO DRINK SOME WATER DAMNIT

  24. This is possibly true! I have read many studies on how certain foods help those with ADHD. Something about the chemicals and all causing inbalances.

  25. Wish this had talked about link btwn dairy, gluten, corn and other foods and increased symptoms in those suffering from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety disorders and other kinds of depression.
    Wish someone would, maybe the shootungs would stop if everyone knew this information.

  26. I just found out a friend of mines daughter was diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenia, and I find it curiously ironic that y'all have published two videos that either focus on that, or mention both significantly.

    Small world!

  27. great chain links, building blocks of the human anatomy, nonetheless minerals, vitamins, aminos, fatty acids, nutrients for the individualized cause. Great video, great post as always, peace and blessings, cosmic well wishes, ty!

  28. My doctors have advised me to take Omega 3, B12, and vitamin D supplements for my mental health (in addition to things like SSRIs and cognitive behavioral therapy).

    In uni, I decided to go vegetarian without having done much research (and with a shoestring grocery budget – sriracha on buttered noodles isn't a healthy meal, kids!) The resulting deficiencies exacerbated my existing mental health struggles, so I saw quite extreme benefits from adding the supplements my doctor recommended.

    Now that I eat a more nutritionally balanced diet, I'm never sure if it's just the placebo effect, but I think they are still useful to me (especially the vitamin D in winter).

  29. I'm not remotely surprised. If I eat a lot of processed foods, my systems slow down and I don't feel well overall. But when I eat better, I feel better in general.

  30. A friend of mine researches the effects of potassium and magnesium in treatment of oversensitivity, which has been very useful for, among other groups, the autistic community, who frequently have oversensitivity.

    I am always worried about these kind of studies, though. I remember this scientist who dedicated maybe a couple of pages of conjecture on how gut bacteria are relevant to autism, then used big platforms like Big Think to market his book based solely on this conjecture.

    Basically; Nutrition studies and psychology studies are frought with bad study designs or just downright elitist in their rhetoric. Recently, I read a neurological paper which concluded that, because they hadn't recruited among "syndromic" autistics, their results should be interpreted as "underrepresented". In other words, they argued without self-reflection that because the participants they tested on had the least outwardly visible behavioural phenotype and were 0.5% relevant, their finding should be assumed more relevant for people with completely different behavioural phenotypes should be assumed to benefit more rather than less.

    This happens a lot in behavioural research and it's really upsetting.

  31. FINALLY! Someone is presenting the amazing research on this. Please do more in this arena! there is so much amazing research in the interesting intersection diet exercise and mental health and adhd mood disorders and developmental disorders.

  32. No surprise here. I have bioolar 1, and it's genetic. I've had it since birth. In my early 20's I decided to get healthy- bettering my diet and getting regular exercise- and my highs and lows became SO much easier to manage.

    I still need meds, but it is easier to manage when I can't get them.

  33. Interesting video – thank you.

    The connection to inflammation is thought-provoking. I know on days when I am at my worst mentally I am often also generally achey in my body. I always thought that it was psychosomatic. Now I am wondering if it is not just inflammation generally. Hmmm…

  34. There are many good reasons for eating well, so this is just another one on the list, and one that has no real downside. The problem is many of the mental illnesses that seem like they would benefit from eating a healthier diet are ones that make it more difficult to accomplish a healthier diet. Shopping, choosing good foods, cooking, and eating them are all gigantic hurdles when getting out of bed to use the washroom is already taking up someone's entire energy budget for the day.

  35. im pretty shure of a link between your types of gut bacteria and mental health.
    so if you only eat fast carbohydrates like pure sugar, most of bacteria in the beginning of your gut will be carbohydrate-eating and all bacteria in the deeper gut will be eating something else (neather carbohydrates nor fats or preoteins since almost nothing except a few carbohydrates could get there)

  36. I am happy to see this investigated by SciShow and brought to attention.
    The first thing my psychiatric medicine doctor did was change my diet radically & put me on the right, but few supplements.
    I had been taking supplements before, as a precaution, but taking too much of anything just puts more stress on the body & you don't get the benefits you were aiming for.
    It helped immensely. I lost weight, gained energy & clarity of mind & even reduced my abusive behavior of my addiction.

  37. Vitamin B12, B6 and Foliate deficiencies symptoms include fatigue, weakness and low mood. Which are also typical symptoms of depression. It kind of makes sense fixing those deficiencies in the background would make said symptoms milder.

  38. Vegan with a healthy diet and depression for years. Don't want to think about how my mental health would look like without this 'diet' after this video…

  39. As SciShow has said many times that correlation does not imply causation. Could it be that people with depression don't eat well and that is why they show lower levels of nutrients?

  40. Omega-3 Are in every other video right now. However the same facts are also in the newest research, so their chance to be actually true is high. So eating fish and flesh makes happy? Morbid. Lets hope lab meat becomes a reality soon.

  41. I don’t know how much of a placebo it is but I feel less depressed when I eat more fermented foods like kombucha, yogurt, and kimchi regularly.

  42. Mental health IS physical health – I wonder why some people seem surprised. The brain – where mental functions take place – is part of the physical body after all.

  43. Healthy eating would be default for me if I had time, but thanks to capitalism I need to sell all that time for money to meet my basic needs, like housing or food… Seems a little rigged when people can't feed themselves healthily

  44. Until they can prove something beyond vague correlation, i don't buy it. Like, sadder/more anxious people oftenly eat confort food to feel better. Beside when you're severely depressed you don't feel like cooking, so you turn toward what is oftenly the less healthy alternative. So far we can't really tell what comes first

  45. Depression is linked to chronic inflammation and disregulation in the brain, so it's not surprising that an uninflammatory diet might help with recovery. So whole grains, fatty fish, legumes and lots of veggies

  46. How do they know the diets caused the better mental health, and not that, people who are already in good mental health, tend to eat better anyway?

  47. Also, some nutrients are used as neurotransmitters or to make neurotransmitters. It would be downright shocking if diet didn't matter.

  48. Jesus Christ, this is too relevant right now.

    I've been trying to improve my mental health for years, with noticeable but limited progress. Recently (because I believe that the meat industry is detrimental to our environment and economy), I decided to start buying vegan food. In trying to ensure that I was getting enough nutrients, I did research on nutritional needs while trying to calculate my diet history. I was shocked when it became clear that I had been living on less than 2/3 of my caloric needs. 1800 was pretty much the upper limit for my intake, with the average prolly being closer to 1600. Then I realized that the 2000 calorie recommendation was for skinny women, and an adult male needs 2400-2800. Then I started reading about the affects of nutrient deficiency. Without being able to afford blood work to confirm, but comparing the symptoms with the causes, I'm pretty sure that I actually have scurvy. (For any concerned, I have been actively working to correct this by both incorporating Vit C in my diet AND for the time being taking Emergen-C).

    I realized this all within the last two days, so I don't know how my behavior changes will impact my health. But, I'm kinda optimistic. I think I've found a root cause of my mental and physical health issues, something that I know I can change. So, I guess, wish me luck?

  49. I have schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, I take vit b, folate, and omega fatty acids. Not a cure but it does help.

  50. I love that you guys mention and talk about schizophrenia. I would love to see a deep dive into affect and how it can be affected (ha) by certain disorderss

  51. Hank, I love how you ended the video acknowledging the amount of content available. I'm always ready to watch scishow – big fan here!

  52. I welcome this but warn caution to those who looking to help their own or others with depression.
    When I was struggling with my anxiety and depression the very flippant suggestion I switch to brown bread from my occ. health doctor nearly killed me. The idea all of the issues I was having, with social anxiety, intrusive and suicidal thoughts, agoraphobia and panic attacks; could be cured with a simple dietary change was an insult.
    I admit; maybe if I ate better it would help, even a little bit. But any attempt to eat well was severely hampered by my absent executive function and constant fatigue.
    Mental health isnt a simple problem and I'm glad sci show always tries to discuss it with nuance.

  53. I wonder if the mixed results concerning Vitamin D have more to do with one of our biggest sources of Vitamin D: sunlight. I bet there's more evidence that spending some quality time out in the sun helps mental illness than simply Vitamin D.

  54. People aren't seriously surprised? Even little kids can tell you that. You are what you eat.
    Diet affects everything from mental health to cancer and heart disease. The worst medical crises of our time could be solved through dietary changes.

  55. I already eat healthy, and still have issues! Maybe I should cut out the dairy products?? (Worth a try but I already cut out meat.) I'm not sure itll solve the issue… 🙁

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