“Nutrition matters. Poor nutrition is a significant and modifiable risk factor for the development of mental illness.”
That’s the bottom line for clinical psychologist Julia Rucklidge. In her recent TED talk, she reviews a multitude of rigorous studies backing up the claim.
Don’t we have drugs for mental illness, though? Yes, but as Rucklidge also observes, there’s growing evidence that such medications become less effective or downright harmful in the long term. While they are often the single most effective immediate treatment for mental illness, their extended use is another matter. For many if not most patients, long-term use is hazardous. Rucklidge cites numerous studies showing that antipsychotics, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety drugs can lose their efficacy, impede recovery, or lead to new and serious ailments in those who use them too long.
Good nutrition, by contrast, has no downside—and almost too many upsides to name. Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are as basic to good health as anything we can consume. Barriers to getting enough of them can include the cost and availability of fresh vegetables and fruits, the time to prepare and eat them, and the competing allure of processed food and junk food. While nothing can replace “real” food altogether, supplements can also be helpful for many people.
The key takeaway is that you need those micronutrients. A lot. “To me the message is clear,” Rucklidge tells us. “A well-nourished body and brain is better able to withstand ongoing stress and recover from illness.”