What is nutritional psychiatry?

What is nutritional psychiatry?

You’ve heard of nutritionists. You know about psychiatrists. But have you ever met a nutritional psychiatrist? 

Nutritional psychiatry is a relatively new field of study that’s been emerging steadily over the last few decades. It happened like this: 

  • In the 1980s: A scientific framework began to develop, which focused on the relationship being nutrition and mental health. It was rooted in the perspective of nutritional anthropology.
  • In the 2000s: People started talking about ‘nutritional psychology’ – a field of study that explored the impact of nutrients and diet on mood, behaviour, and mental health.
  • In 2015: The Center for Nutritional Psychology (CNP) was founded in the US by Dr. Amanda Hull and Ephimia Morphew-LU. Its aim is to support the development of this field of study, and offer education to mental health professionals.
  • And now: Nutritional psychiatry is developing at a faster pace. It involves global researchers in a number of different fields, including nutrition, mental health, population health, and epidemiology. And a growing number of groups are emerging – like the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research, which is working to increase awareness, enable collaboration, and create opportunities for actionable clinical translation.  

OK. But what is it, exactly? 

It’s the practice of using food and supplements as alternative (or complementary) treatments for mental health disorders. 

Nutritional psychiatry is based on an understanding that what we eat influences our mood. Unlike regular psychiatrists, nutritional psychiatrists integrate food into the treatment plans they offer their patients – and those foods are chosen for their nutrient density, vitamin content, minerals, antioxidants, fibre, pro- and prebiotics, and protein. Simultaneously, a nutritional psychiatrist will support their patients as they cut down on foods like sugar, which are known to have a negative impact on mood and mental health. 

A growing body of research is revealing the connections between the gut and the brain – and showing that the food we eat can support (or harm) our mental health. Studies show, for example, that a poor diet can make mood disorders worse – while high-nutrient diets can improve mental well-being. 

And nutritional psychiatry also pays attention to the way that gut microbiota (trillions of symbiotic microbial cells that everyone has, mostly bacteria in the gut) can affect mental health. Certain foods can feed good gut bacteria – and in turn, this protects against pathogens and improves well-being. 

Nutritional psychiatry in action

Truth: we didn’t know much about nutritional psychiatry until we spotted this Guardian article by a nutritional psychiatrist in October. It caught our attention – because it was the first time we’d seen nutritional psychiatry taken seriously in the mainstream media. 

And that points to nutritional psychiatry as an emerging trend at the intersection between food and mental health. 

Nutritional psychiatry treatment plans often focus on balancing blood sugar levels, increasing the nutritional value of your diet, and using ingredients high in omega-3 fatty acids and gut-supportive bacteria to reduce inflammation and improve overall health. 

What does this mean for the F&B industry? 

The emerging scientific backing for nutritional psychiatry suggests that it should be given more space within conventional mental health services. And as more evidence is gathered to prove that it works, this discipline is likely to become more prevalent – both in professional mental health settings, and in personal and self-help settings. 

In other words, more people will recognise the benefits of nutritional psychiatry for good mental health. 

And this represents an emerging market in F&B. Demand is growing for gut-supportive food products and supplements that can balance out the impact of less-than-ideal diets, and give consumers more convenient, accessible ways to increase the nutrients in their food. 

Nutritional psychiatry won’t become a replacement for more conventional mental help treatments – like medication and talking therapies. But it could be an increasingly popular addition to mental health treatment plans; so there’s a real opportunity for F&B businesses to contribute to better mental health around the world.

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