Nutrition affects mental health in almost any way you can imagine, according to Leslie Korn, PhD, MPH, LMHC, a traumatologist specializing in mental health nutrition and integrative approaches to treating the mind and body.
While nutrition does affect mental health from the prenatal stage of life when one is in utero, it is increasingly significant in the later stages of life, when one is looking to maintain cognitive health and focus.
Nutrition and mental health is a bi-directional effect, Dr. Korn says. “It’s not just that nutrition affects mental health,” she says, “it’s that mental health affects nutrition.”
In the 1950s, research was published examining the role of phospholipid metabolism in the brain and it’s effect on chronic mental diseases. The inquiries went by the wayside in the 60s and 70s, but practitioners today are starting to come back to those original studies, recognizing the signalling dysfunctions in the brain and the genetic and epigenetic contributions to phospholipid disorders, says Dr. Korn.
Nutrition can trigger gene responses that will affect fatty metabolism in the brain, she says, and can have profound affects, not just on depression and anxiety, but on autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.
In addition, lack of vitamin B-12 can contribute to cognitive decline both in people who are vegetarian and older people who may not access enough B-12. “We’re beginning to pay much more attention to the role of food and nutrients even in very simple ways that we can see,” said Korn. “Everywhere you look, everywhere that you intersect, you can identify whether it is through neuroendocrine function or any kind of function of the body, and you can see how nutrients and nutritional status is going to affect physical, emotional, and mental function.”