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Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Claire

Plant-based diets appear to influence mental health positively. Vegetarians, in cross-sectional and interventional studies, showed fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and mood disturbance than omnivores.  Higher levels of antioxidants in the blood from plant sources have been associated with a significantly lower risk of depression, and lower suicide rates have been tied to higher consumption of fruit, vegetables, nuts, and soy and lower intake of dairy, meat, and fish.

Chicken has been linked to a variety of neurological and psychiatric conditions. Arachidonic acid, found at particularly high levels in chicken and eggs, produces inflammatory compounds that may affect our brains. Chicken has low levels of omega 3 fatty acid, a vital nutrient for the brain. Toxoplasma brain parasites from meat have been linked to schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. Glycotoxins—found primarily in chicken, pork, beef, and fish—increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. High consumption of fish has been associated with an increased risk of mental disorders, lower testosterone (which can lead to depression), and chronic fatigue syndrome and depression.

Frequent ingestion of the artificial sweetener, aspartame, may increase risk of depression and other mental disorders. Artificial coloring in foods may increase impulsivity, inattentiveness and hyperactivity in children. Children whose mothers ate more licorice during pregnancy were more prone to attention, speech, and visual-spatial ability problems. 

Research has shown that certain foods and nutrients may have positive effects on mental illnesses. Green tea may help improve one’s mood. Eating seeds high in tryptophan may be an effective treatment for social anxiety disorder. The serotonin contained in fruit has the potential to alleviate depression. Probiotics may help decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger, and hostility. Evidence is growing that the spice saffron produces a drop in depression symptoms comparable to Prozac. The spice turmeric may help lessen the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Exercise can help mitigate ADHD symptoms and combat depression

Those adhering to a strict plant-based diet should eat foods fortified with vitamin B-12 or take supplements to avoid a vitamin B-12 deficiency, which has been linked to cases of psychosis, suicidal depression, and cognitive decline.

Public awareness and education related to mental health issues are of utmost importance. Many herbal products like chlorella are being marketed to promote mental health without an adequate research base. In the area of clinical drug trials, a recent analysis uncovered a bias for publishing only those studies that provided positive evidence of antidepressant drugs’ effectiveness.

 

Image Credit: llhedgehogll / Thinkstock. This image has been modified.

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