Behavioral health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, affect a significant number of Americans each year. In 2017 one in eight youths between 12 to 17 years old experienced a major depressive episode compared to one in 14 adults. Approximately one in three people in the US have experienced an anxiety disorder in their lifetimes, with women experiencing anxiety at rates two times that of men. Further, rates of these illness have increased since the coronavirus pandemic came to the US. Poor diet quality has been implicated with the development of depression, anxiety and other psychiatric conditions given the essential role of key dietary nutrients in the body's nervous and hormone systems. Nutrients naturally found in food and beverages--such as tryptophan, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate, phenylalanine, tyrosine, histidine, choline, and glutamic acid--are critical for the production of the key neurotransmitters--serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine--involved in the regulation of mood, appetite and cognition. Therefore, improving diet quality may contribute to the prevention and treatment of these illnesses.
Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) researcher Gail Woodward-Lopez contributed to a collaborative narrative review that describes the global burden and features of depression and anxiety and summarizes the latest scientific evidence on diet and nutrition in the prevention and management of these illnesses. The review concludes with a call for nutritional medicine to be incorporated into psychiatric practice to support individuals in achieving a healthy dietary pattern, one rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein foods. It further recommends additional research be conducted to better understand how diet affects behavioral health disorders. The review was published online in the journal Nutrition Reviews on May 24, 2020. The study was conducted in collaboration with Penny Kris-Etherthon and Kristina Petersen of the Pennsylvania State University, Department of Nutritional Sciences; Joseph Hibbeln of the National Institute of Health, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; Daniel Hurley of the Mayo Clinic; Valerie Kolick of the US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; Sevetra Peoples of the George Washington University, Milken Institute School of Public Health; and Nancy Rodriguez of the University of Connecticut, Department of Nutritional Sciences. The study was conducted as a project of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Science Board, of which NPI's Woodward-Lopez was a member. The study is available online.