Though there’s still much to uncover about the underlying relationship between diet and mental health, we have compelling evidence that suggests the two are in fact very closely related (
This article is your guide to understanding how your diet may affect your mental health and wellbeing.
We’ll cover what we know so far about the relationship between diet and mental health, look at specific dietary patterns that may improve mental health, and explore simple steps you can take to support a healthy mental state.
A note on accessing professional support
If you need to talk to someone right away, help is available:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
- Text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
- If you’re living with a substance use disorder, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 800-662-4357.
- If you’re a young person of color, text STEVE to 741741.
- Call the Trans Lifeline Hotline at 877-565-8860 (US) or 877-330-6366 (Canada).
- Not in the U.S.? Find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.
If you’re not currently in crisis but you’re considering working with a mental health professional, these resources may be able to help you get started:
- When to Consult a Psychologist
- 9 Tips for Finding the Right Therapist
- Finding an LGBTQIA+ Affirming Therapist: Questions and Answers to Help
- Therapy for Every Budget: How to Access It
- The Best Affordable or Free Online Therapy Services of 2022
- How to Find Mental Health Services When You Need More than Therapy
Diet and mental health: Is there a link?
Historically, mental health conditions have been treated with psychiatric therapies like counseling, medication, and sometimes hospitalization.
Today, an emerging field called nutritional psychiatry emphasizes how diet and nutrition affect the way people feel mentally. It aims to support treatment of mental health conditions with diet and lifestyle changes (2Trusted Source).
It’s something we may have taken for granted in the past, but it makes perfect sense that the foods we eat have just as much effect on our brains as they do on the rest of our bodies.
One reason our food choices affect our brains so strongly is that our gastrointestinal system — or what’s more commonly referred to as “the gut” — is actually very closely connected to the brain.
The gut is home to trillions of living microbes that have many functions in the body, such as synthesizing neurotransmitters that send chemical messages to the brain to regulate sleep, pain, appetite, mood, and emotion.
In fact, there’s such an intricate network of interactions between the two that the gut has been nicknamed the “second brain.” Formally, the relationship between the two is called the gut-brain connection or gut-brain axis (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).
We still have more to learn, but research suggests that the foods we eat influence the health of gut microbe colonies, which subsequently influences our brains and, thus, our mental and emotional health (6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).
SUMMARYExisting research in the field of nutritional psychiatry suggests that our diet can affect our mental and emotional health. Food we eat affects our gastrointestinal systems, which are directly tied to our brains and the ways we process emotions.