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Optimum nutrition in mental health

By The Russell Partnership's Professor David Russell

Posted by Hannah Vickers | March 28, 2017 | Students

Going to university is one of life’s greatest adventures, and perhaps one of the most academically and psychologically challenging periods of adolescence (or later). A recent survey found that 78% of university students reported having had a mental health problem over the course of one year, and 33% had had suicidal thoughts. Another report suggested that up to one-in-four young people are struggling with the hidden world of mental health disorders.  

Comparatively, in 2004 only one in 10 young people were diagnosed with a mental health disorder. It is challenging to identify the cause of this surge in numbers over the past decade as students and adolescents are individuals with highly complex lives. Nonetheless, we may assume it is partly attributed to increased societal pressures, lifestyle habits and a sub-optimal diet. 

Whilst diet may not necessarily eliminate negative mental health outcomes for some adolescents struggling with family stress, workload or other personal problems – dietary intervention may support those with unexplained mental health issues, or provide a pillar for many to move forward in a state of optimal health

Research has supported the theory that diet plays a critical role in mental health outcomes. The reasoning is complex and interwoven, however it is based around the ideology that nutrient levels, macronutrient ratio, inflammatory response, functional homeostasis and gut health are intrinsically linked to neurological health. 

Whilst diet may not necessarily eliminate negative mental health outcomes for some adolescents struggling with family stress, workload or other personal problems – dietary intervention may support those with unexplained mental health issues, or provide a pillar for many to move forward in a state of optimal health. 

So, how can we help our students out with their diet? On-campus offers must be refined to ensure provisions are nutrient dense and aligned with research findings between dietary provision and positive mental health outcomes. In practical terms, this means that refined carbohydrates and sugars must be replaced for wholegrains and naturally sweet alternatives to maintain a steady blood sugar balance. 

An array of high-fibre fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes will need to be on offer to deliver micronutrients and a balance of macronutrients to support bodily functions and gut health. For more information on the importance of optimum nutrition in mental health, visit Food for The Brain www.foodforthebrain.org. Food for The Brain is a charity we at The Russell Partnership have supported for over 10 years. Let’s take proactive action…

W: www.russellpartnership.com

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