Unhealthy Diets and Mental Illness

 In Naturopathic News

Node Smith, ND

A new study has concluded that a poor diet is directly linked to mental health complaints regardless of factors such as gender, education, age, economic or marital status.1 A holistic approach to mental health issues often addresses dietary factors, but to have a conventional study support this link may be a step in giving individuals a sense of control over their mental health.

Unhealthy diets linked to moderate and severe psychological distress

The study appeared in the International Journal of Food and Sciences and Nutrition. It found specifically that California adults who ate a more unhealthy diet were more likely to report symptoms of moderate to severe psychological distress than individuals who ate healthier.

This study is similar to other studies conducted in other countries that have found a link between increased sugar consumption, fried and processed foods, and processed grains with depression, and bipolar disorders.

This study has big implications for behavioral treatment

Jim E. Banta, PhD, MPH, associate professor at Loma Linda University School of Public Healthand lead author of the study is quoted as saying:
“This and other studies like it could have big implications for treatments in behavioral medicine.” “Perhaps the time has come for us to take a closer look at the role of diet in mental health, because it could be that healthy diet choices contribute to mental health. More research is needed before we can answer definitively, but the evidence seems to be pointing in that direction.”

Banta cautioned that the link found between poor diet and mental illness is not a causal relationship. Still, he said the findings from California build upon previous studies and could affect future research and the approaches that healthcare providers administer for behavioral medicine treatments.

The study itself reviewed almost a quarter of a million telephone surveys over a ten-year period of time. This was part of the multi-year California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). The survey included extensive socio-demographic info including health status and behaviors, and included multiple ethnic groups.

The findings

The study found that nearly 17 percent of California adults are likely to suffer from mental illness — 13.2 percent with moderate psychological distress and 3.7 percent with severe psychological distress.

The study stated that the team’s findings provide “additional evidence that public policy and clinical practice should more explicitly aim to improve diet quality among those struggling with mental health.” It also stated that “dietary interventions for people with mental illness should especially target young adults, those with less than 12 years of education, and obese individuals.”


Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Humboldt, Saskatchewan and associate editor and continuing education director for NDNR. His mission is serving relationships that support the process of transformation, and that ultimately lead to healthier people, businesses and communities. His primary therapeutic tools include counselling, homeopathy, diet and the use of cold water combined with exercise. Node considers health to be a reflection of the relationships a person or a business has with themselves, with God and with those around them. In order to cure disease and to heal, these relationships must be specifically considered. Node has worked intimately with many groups and organizations within the naturopathic profession, and helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic Revitalization (ANR), which works to promote and facilitate experiential education in vitalism.

Node Smith graduated from the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in 2017, and is currently licensed as a naturopathic physician in Oregon and working towards becoming licensed in Saskatchewan, Canada as well.

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