Node Smith, ND

We often don’t consider how much our diets contribute to mental health. In fact, it is common for even more holistically minded health practitioners to advocate very adamantly for diet and lifestyle changes for conditions such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, even cancer, while considering depression and anxiety as needing specific pharmacological intervention.

Diet for health, why not diet for mental health?

In my personal, and professional opinion, I would argue that this bias occurs because many practitioners are very uncomfortable with mental illness. It takes a different sort of approach to connect with individuals struggling with anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia. And, there is plenty of research to support diet, exercise, and environmental factors being foundational factors in the development and treatment of these conditions. What we eat has a direct relationship with how we feel – most people intuitively know this, regardless of whether they have the skill set to do anything about it.

DASH diet + treatment of depression

A recent article on the DASH diet underlines this point, as it looks at how this specific diet, which is commonly used to treat hypertension (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), can be effective in the treatment of depression.1

The study found that individuals who had diets that looked more like the DASH diet were significantly less likely to develop depression than others who did not eat in this way. The DASH diet focuses on higher vegetable intake, and the limitation of highly processed foods high in saturated fat and sugar.

Depression a growing concern in elderly population

The study looked at nearly 1000 individuals with an average age of 81 – depression is a growing concern in the elderly population. Since many elderly individuals have hypertension, the DASH diet is commonly prescribed to this population and therefore easier to confirm a structured understanding of a healthier eating option. The group was evaluated yearly for an average of 6 years, through depression screening and dietary questionnaires.

Major take away from the study

The major take away from the study was that the more vegetables and less refined and processed foods eaten, the less likely an individual was to develop depression.

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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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