Mental health needs just as much support and care as physical health. And nutrition can play a drastic role in maintaining balance and good mental health.

With the stigma of mental health, many are reluctant to get help. Many older people in particular come from a generation where things like depression and suicidal thought were seen as weaknesses or character flaws rather than a genuine health condition.

In the recent publication in the Medical Journal of Australia about preventable deaths in aged care, it was found that there were 146 suicides between 2000 and 2013.

So how can nutrition help here? A TED Talks by Julia Rucklidge talks about the relationship between mental health the good nutrition.

She says that “optimising nutrition is a safe and viable way to avoid, treat or lessen mental illness. Nutrition matters.”

“Poor nutrition is a significant and modifiable risk factor for the development of mental illness,” she says.

With the rates of mental illness on the rise, currently the healthcare system operates within a medical model.

A system that is universal across most Western societies, this means that a person would be offered psychiatric medications first, followed by psychological therapies and other forms of support.

One of the front-line forms of treatment is medication, which is leading to the increasing rate of prescriptions. And for some people, this works.

However, Rucklidge argues that “if a treatment is truly effective, then shouldn’t the rates of disorder and disability as a direct consequence of that illness be decreasing rather than increasing?”

“In the short term, these treatments are often very effective – but in the long term, they aren’t. And in some cases, it’s making life worse”.

In the TED Talk, Rucklidge shows research after research that support this theory – that long term usage of medication can actually have negative effects.

Using Nutrition as Medicine

Rucklidge talks about a number of families in Southern Alberta, Canada who were treating themselves with micronutrients. These people had bipolar disorder, psychosis, depression – all serious conditions.

Rucklidge admits that her education taught her that “nutrition and diet were of trivial significance for mental health, and that only drugs and psychotherapy could treat these serious conditions”.

But contrary to these teaching, others, including her mentor, were publishing data showing “people getting well and staying well” using nutrition as medicine.

That’s what inspired Rucklidge to study nutrients.

Through her research she compared people on micronutrients with people who were on placebos – initial results showed that those on micronutrients found that their symptoms were less impairing and less interfering in their lives.

And one year later, those people who stayed on the micronutrients maintained their changes or showed further improvements, while those who switched to medications or simply stopped taking the micronutrients showed a worsening of their symptoms.

couple eating fruit

These results were not simply confined to one study – similar results were seen with ADHD, PTSD, bipolar disorder and more.

The University of Canterbury, Mental Health and Nutrition research group have published over 20 papers and journals all documenting the benefits of micronutrients.

Nutrients have shown vast improvements in a number of groups with a variety of conditions: reducing aggression in prisoners, slow cognitive decline in the elderly, treat depressions, anxiety, autism and ADHD.

Micronutrients might even be more cost effective than current conventional treatments, suggest Rucklidge.

It should be noted that “micronutrients” here are not the same as over-the-account vitamins that you can get at the supermarket or pharmacy. During her experiments, Rucklidge gave the each subject up to 15 pills a day that had 36 different nutrients.

The Benefits of Our Healthier Diet at Home

So if you were to try this at home with store bought vitamins, you would unlikely to see any effect as the dosage and breadth of nutrients is lower.   

However, that doesn’t mean the public cannot benefit from the results of this study – eating better also has some importance.

Countless researches have shown that eating a Mediterranean or unprocessed diet, the lower the risk of depression. This diet is fresh, high in fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts and healthy fats.

Conversely, the more a person eats a “Western” diet or processed food, the higher the risk of depression. This kind of diet is high in refined grains, sugary drinks, lots of takeaway food and very little fresh produce.

Not a single study has been able to show that this “Western” diet can be good for your mental health.

Rucklidge says the message is clear: That a well nourished body and brain is better able to withstand ongoing stress and recover from illness.

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