Well-Being//

What You Eat Is Impacting Your Mental Health. Here’s What You Should Know.

How America's "global industrial diet" can impact your panic attacks.

Karpenkov Denis / Shutterstock
Karpenkov Denis / Shutterstock

Studies show that adults with many types of mental health issues and children with ADHD have very low levels of antioxidants (which come from fruits and vegetables), such as the fifty-six-year-old man with lifelong crippling depression who improved by cleaning up his diet and taking a cocktail of B vitamins. I remember one man who presented with severe panic attacks every afternoon. Turned out he was eating a diet very high in sugar and starch and had wild swings in his blood sugar, which triggered the anxiety. When he cut out sugar and starch, his anxiety and panic attacks vanished. These stories are not anomalies. They are predictable results from applying nutritional medicine.

In recent years, major medical journals have clearly shown the link between nutrition and mental health. The Lancet Psychiatry, a top medical journal, maps out just how nutritional medicine is a key to mental health and psychiatry. Overall diet quality, high sugar loads, and rampant nutritional deficiencies (including omega‑3 fats, zinc, magnesium, vitamin D, and B vitamins) all drive mental illness. In other words, the culprit is once again the American and increasingly global industrial diet. We have discussed the costs of obesity and chronic disease, but most don’t connect mental illness to the costs of chronic disease. In fact, the cost of mental illness to the economic burden is far greater than the costs of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Mental health issues may not lead to the same death rates as diabetes or heart disease, but they lead to more years of disability and lost productivity. For example, years of life lost to disability and loss of productivity from mental illness are more than eight times those of heart disease, in part because it affects younger people. Population studies have found that more fruits and vegetables and less french fries, fast food, and sugar are associated with a lower prevalence of mental illness, and that junk food creates moderate to severe psychological distress. The good news is that interventional studies have shown that treatment of mental illness with diet works well (especially since most medications for mental illness don’t work that well, despite being the second biggest category of drugs sold).

Excerpted from FOOD FIX. Copyright © 2020 by Mark Hyman, MD. Used with permission of Little, Brown Spark. New York. All rights reserved.

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Illustration by: Getty Images, featuring photograph from Lorenzo Antonucci.
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