News & Opinion | March 29, 2019 12:45 pm

Understanding the Link Between Better Nutrition and Improved Mental Health

Nutritional psychiatrists explore how what we eat can directly affect how we feel.

Can oysters help your mental health?
Getty Images/Westend61

When a patient came in for treatment for anxiety and mild depression, psychiatrist Dr. Drew Ramsey prescribed him a different kind of over-the-counter remedy: oysters.

Ramsey is no ordinary psychiatrist, he is the author of several books that study the connections between nutrition, diet, and mental health. He is also a big fan of oysters since they are chock full of vitamin B12, which studies have found may help reduce brain shrinkage. Oysters are also high in long-chain, omega-3 fatty acids, deficiencies of which have been linked to higher risk for suicide and depression.

Ramsey is one of many doctors in the field of nutritional psychiatry—a field that focused on the link between what you put in your body and how it affects your brain and mental health. Ramsey thinks that a poor diet is a major factor contributing to the current epidemic of depression. He believes that most Americans are “overfed in calories,” but many do not get the micronutrients that our brains need. These micronutrients are easily found in common plant foods, but a CDC report showed that only one in 10 adults meets the minimal daily federal recommendations for fruits and vegetables.

Nutritional psychiatrists still prescribe antidepressants and other medications when appropriate, and use talk therapy or other traditional forms of counseling. But they push for patients to understand that fresh and nutritious foods can be a great addition to the mix of available therapies toward better mental health.