Mental illness, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, accounts for a significant proportion of global disability and poses a substantial social, economic and heath burden. Treatment is presently dominated by pharmacotherapy, such as antidepressants, and psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy; however, such treatments avert less than half of the disease burden, suggesting that additional strategies are needed to prevent and treat mental disorders. There are now consistent mechanistic, observational and interventional data to suggest diet quality may be a modifiable risk factor for mental illness. This review provides an overview of the nutritional psychiatry field. It includes a discussion of the neurobiological mechanisms likely modulated by diet, the use of dietary and nutraceutical interventions in mental disorders, and recommendations for further research. Potential biological pathways related to mental disorders include inflammation, oxidative stress, the gut microbiome, epigenetic modifications and neuroplasticity. Consistent epidemiological evidence, particularly for depression, suggests an association between measures of diet quality and mental health, across multiple populations and age groups; these do not appear to be explained by other demographic, lifestyle factors or reverse causality. Our recently published intervention trial provides preliminary clinical evidence that dietary interventions in clinically diagnosed populations are feasible and can provide significant clinical benefit. Furthermore, nutraceuticals including n-3 fatty acids, folate, S-adenosylmethionine, N-acetyl cysteine and probiotics, among others, are promising avenues for future research. Continued research is now required to investigate the efficacy of intervention studies in large cohorts and within clinically relevant populations, particularly in patients with schizophrenia, bipolar and anxiety disorders.
Keywords: BDNF brain-derived neurotrophic factor; NAC N-acetyl cysteine; RCT randomised controlled trial; Diet; Mental health; Nutrition; Psychiatry; Treatment.