Most of us have heard the saying ‘You are what you eat’, but have you ever considered that what you eat also affects your mental and brain health? We caught up with Director of the Food & Mood Centre at Deakin University, Professor Felice Jacka to find out how this team of researchers are linking healthy diets to healthy minds.
Deakin University’s Food & Mood Centre is unique in the world in its focus on Nutritional Psychiatry. “Our primary aim is the development of new and targeted prevention and treatment strategies for mental disorders that are based on dietary modification.” Professor Jacka explains that the ground-breaking research conducted so far by the Food & Mood Centre has revealed that unhealthy diets are a risk factor for depression across the lifespan and that changing a person’s diet can assist in overcoming clinical depression. Professor Jacka calls Ocean Grove home, but has been travelling globally to present this information to the world.
“Given that there have been no truly new treatments for depression for decades, and that current treatments only help a proportion of sufferers, the fact that our research has shown that dietary change can address clinical depression – and that it’s a very cost-effective way of doing so – is very important. The new knowledge that diet quality is tightly linked to the risk for depression also gives us new targets for the prevention of mental disorders.”
Professor Jacka hopes that people will make healthy choices a daily part of life. “Based on our research, there’s a new understanding that what people eat can influence their mental and brain health, not just their physical health. We hope that our research prompts everyone, particularly parents, to recognise that the quality of our habitual diets is important for mental well-being as well as brain power across the life-course.”
“Of course, we also hope that policy-makers will recognise that our current food environment is extremely toxic and now accounts for the leading cause of early death in developed countries. They need to enact policy changes to stop junk foods being the most accessible, cheapest and heavily marketed ‘foods’ available to the population.”
If you take a look at their very user-friendly website, you’ll notice that the Centre is buzzing with many avenues of research, some that are currently recruiting study participants. “We have a very important trial (Moo’D) currently underway that aims to examine the possible impact of different types of dairy on mental and gut health. We’re recruiting women with low mood to the trial.”
Going forward, the Food & Mood Centre is working hard to provide the science to establish just how important diet is to mental wellbeing.
“We now need to extend our evidence base from depression and anxiety to the less common mental disorders, such as schizophrenia. We also need to develop new models of treatment that address the whole person, and not just bits of their brain. And we need to have a deeper understanding of how diet influences mental and brain health, so that we can better target our interventions.”
If you’re wondering how you can best improve your mood, Professor Jacka provides this advice: “There is no one food that should be eaten to reduce the risk for mental disorders or any other health disorder… Eating (and exercising) according to the recommended guidelines is the single best way to support good mental and physical health over the lifespan, for us and our children.”
Professor Jacka’s new book ‘Brain Changer’ will be hot off the press through Pan Macmillan from February 26th for those who want to read more about her research.
For further information and many helpful resources go to the Food & Mood Centre website: http://foodandmoodcentre.com.au/
Story: Sarah Treacy. Photo Credit: Jessica Davis