Brain Food and Psychiatric Illness

Major depressive disorder (MDD) and other mood disorders may share some overlapping features with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. For example, recurrent or treatment resistant depression confers an increased risk of later developing dementia. Conversely, dementia is frequently accompanied by depression and mood instability.

Moreover, neuroimaging studies conducted on patients suffering from a mood disorder has revealed hippocampal atrophy, where the number of major depressive episodes correlates with volumetric and morphological changes in the hippocampus. (The hippocampus is a brain structure that plays important roles in working memory, mood, and higher cognitive function.) These observations suggest that changes in mood and behavior may be reflected in brain structure. Antidepressants, independent of class (SSRI, tricyclic or MAOI), all appear to enhance the rate of hippocampal neurogenesis, and thereby reverse depression-related cognitive deficits and synaptic wear-and-tear.

Emerging evidence suggest that healthy dietary choices also play a role in both resilience to depression and susceptibility to neurodegenerative disease. In particular, blueberries, wild salmon, curry (curcumin), and cacao have been identified as brain-healthy foods that reverse brain aging and restore cognitive function.

The infographic below organizes brain foods that have been identified in the literature as conferring cognitive benefits into a food pyramide. Tentative evidence also suggests that, in addition to psychopharmacology and therapy, a healthy diet enriched in these foods are an important part of a comprehensive mental health plan.

The Brain Food Pyramid