The Importance of Nutrition in Mental Health

By Dr. Britta Zimmer, Medical Director

It is time to face a simple fact and reclaim health:

Nutritious Food is Medicine

harvestIt’s easy to get caught up in the complexity of science, research, and the physiology of the human body, therefore I am constantly reminding myself, my patients, and my patients’ parents to get back to the roots because without being rooted, healthy change and growth are difficult to obtain.

The roots of health and healing are simply:

good nutrition, adequate sleep, daily movement, and stress management. These are Pacific Quest’s pillars of health. These roots are simply based in science and research.

I just attended The Integrative Medicine for Mental Health Conference and was reminded (via extensive research and excellent lectures) of the importance of nutritional interventions in the treatment of AD(H)D,  Depression, Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Eating Disorders, Bipolar Disorders, and Autism Spectrum Disorders.


Why is proper nutrition critical in the treatment of all mental health disorders?


Psychotropic medications, such as Prozac, Abilify, Wellbutrin, Seroquel, Ritalin to name a few, affect levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, however these neurotransmitters are controlled by chemical precursors which are made in the body from nutrients obtained from our diet.


Without the proper nutrients the neurotransmitters that psychiatric medications target such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine cannot be made or balanced in the first place.


Solution #1

Eat adequate protein in every meal, protein is made up of amino acids and which are precursors to neurotransmitters.

How much protein?  Recommended daily protein  intake is 1 gram per kilogram of body weight. (Example: 115lbs  =  52.2 kg  =  52 gram protein- If you exercise more than 6 hours weekly  =  2 grams per 1 kg of weight)

Be aware that vegetarian diets, antacids, stress, and poor digestive function all inhibit the body’s absorption of protein.

Protein Warning: talk to your doctor if you have kidney disease

Solution #2

Eat foods high in the following vitamins and minerals (or supplement your diet with these nutrients);

B-complex with folate, B6 and B12, Zinc, and Magnesium. These nutrients are essential for neurotransmitter production. You can Google search foods which contain high amounts of these nutrients.

Solution #3

Take Omega 3 Fatty Acids in the form of Fish Oil.

Truthfully, we should be bathing our brains in omega 3 fatty acids. Every aspect of neurotransmission involves the adequate functioning of omega 3 fatty acids in your body. Also research demonstrates the link between depression and inflammation; levels of omega 3 fatty acids in the body directly influence the body’s inflammatory response.

Take reputable brands of Fish Oil such as Nordic Naturals, Carlsons, Pure Encapsulations, or Vital Nutrients as these companies conduct stringent testing for their products. Fish oil sold at Costco and Trader Joe’s has not been adequately tested for potency and purity, I do not recommend those brands

If you take the good brands mentioned above you will NOT burp up fish oil or taste anything “fishy” as these are high quality ingredients.

Vegetarian sources of Omega 3 fatty acids such as flax oil have not been proven to decrease inflammation and support neurotransmitter production like fish sources.

Fish Oil Warning: talk to you doctor if you take blood thinners, do not take fish oil prior to surgery

Solution #4

Test for food IgG allergies and avoid these foods.

Most common IgG food reactions: Gluten (wheat, barley, rye, spelt), Casein (milk products), Eggs, Baking yeast, Citrus, Peanuts, Corn, Sugar, and Soy.

You can test these via eliminations diets or an IgG blood test. The IgE skin prick tests commonly offered by allergist do not give you this information.

Studies show the correlation between gluten consumption and the increase in symptoms related to depression, autism, anxiety, and AD(H)D.

Gluten and casein can increase inflammation in the body, create an autoimmune response, cause gastrointestinal damage, and create an opiate response. This potential opiate response is partly responsible for the addictive quality of certain foods such as pizza, mac n’ cheese, and chicken nuggets. Usually if it is a food you claim that you “absolutely cannot and will not give up” then you most likely have a food sensitivity to that food- sad but true.

Parents are the biggest obstacle to instigating a gluten and casein free diet because it is too much work for them, they do not see the value in it because they don’t wait long enough to keep their child off of gluten/casein, they allow their child cheat “because they feel bad for them” or they succumb to their child’s demands. It takes at least 4 weeks of strict gluten and casein avoidance to see the positive results. Once the patient experiences a reduction of symptoms with a gluten and casein-free diet this motivates them further to avoid these foods. This is the key to adolescent and young adult compliance to restrictive diets, they have to experience first hand the improvement.

Not mentioned in the 4 solutions above is the importance of Vitamin D in the treatment of mental health disorders, more about that in blogs to come.

All neurological conditions are whole body disorders,  because the body/brain are connected (literally and biochemically. )One must treat the whole body to treat neurological disorders such as AD(H)D, Depression, Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Eating Disorders, Bipolar Disorders, and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The cornerstone of whole body treatment is Nutrition.

Pacific Quest is the only therapeutic treatment programs which offers a gluten-free, casein-free, anti-inflammatory, nutrient dense, organic, whole foods diet.

References available upon request