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Certain dietary changes can have a beneficial effect on mental health, writes Dr Frankie Phillips.
Mental health problems are increasing in the UK population and globally, and depression is predicted to be the second highest cause of disease in the world.1 However, emerging research has indicated some ways that diet may help to protect mental health in mild to moderate cases of depression.
It is well-documented that adequate nutrition in utero and childhood is crucial for healthy brain development. The WHO suggests changes in nutrition provision at school and in the home may be a contributory factor in the rise of mental health problems in childhood and adolescence.2
For the brain to remain healthy, it needs different amounts of carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and fluid. Consequently, an imbalance could interfere with brain chemistry, structure and function, and ultimately may affect mental health and behaviour.
Specific components of the diet have been explored in relation to depression (box, bottom right). Glucose, derived largely from carbohydrate, fuels muscles and the brain, and hypoglycaemia, e.g. when insufficient food is eaten, can cause tiredness. An adequate supply of glucose to the brain enables focus and concentration. However, once blood glucose is within the normal range, there is no improvement in mood with extra glucose.