What is Nutritional Psychiatry?

How do we define nutritional psychiatry? It’s a new field in mental health and it merges all the ideas about mental health, from neuroplasticity to psychotherapy and personalized medicine with nutrition. At its essence, nutritional psychiatry is about taking care of your neurons and your mental health by looking at a lot of new science that’s just come out now.

Let’s talk about the definition. My definition of nutritional psychiatry is the use of nutrition to optimize brain health and to treat and prevent mental health disorders. That’s what the evidence suggests we can do with food and I encourage you to look at some of the other blogs that we have up about nutritional psychiatry, like the core principles blog, and that really help explain why nutritional psychiatry is unique. There are lots of reasons that I utilize nutritional psychiatry in my practice and I’ve found it to be a really interesting and unique intervention.

First of all, it’s delicious, secondly, it’s something that patients can do people can do in their everyday lives. Thirdly, I love how nutritional psychiatry allows practitioners to be in a more preventative stance. In fact, you could argue things like exercise and proper nutrition are two of the most powerful public mental health interventions that we have. Another thing that’s great about nutritional psychiatry is there’s increasing evidence. 10 years ago, when I was talking about the importance of food and mental health, there were just correlational studies. Today, there are multiple randomized trials showing that nutritional support and counseling added on to treatment gets more people better. Along with that data, it’s also clear to me that nutrition and lifestyle interventions are something that combine well with our other interventions in mental health. We don’t have to worry about medication interactions. Eating is something that we’re all already doing so let’s do it in a way that supports our mental health.

I hope that helps you think about how to define nutritional psychiatry and how it should be used. The hope is that by making better choices in our everyday life, we optimize our brain health. By optimizing our brain health we’re taking care of the foundation of our mental health. We’ve increasingly seen from the data that we can prevent mental health disorders. While that might sound like a big claim, there’s increasing research specifically in freshmen in college that showed shifting dietary patterns can significantly prevent depression. Large studies looking at all of the research together say following a traditional diet can maybe decrease the risk of depression by about 18% in a population. So there is data about this that helps us think about both prevention and treatment of mental health disorders and how nutrition and food advice can be used responsibly.

Drew Ramsey, MD

Drew Ramsey, M.D. is a psychiatrist, author, and farmer. He is a clear voice in the mental health conversation and one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using nutritional interventions. He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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