Studies find Western diet may increase risk of mental illness

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 24/11/2012

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Research into how people are changing their diets could help treat mental illness and psychological disorders, a Canterbury University lecturer says.

Associate Professor Julia Rucklidge said there was data suggesting that rates of mental disorders could be increasing, with lifestyle factors playing an important role.

"We know a lot of this in terms of [physical] illness, but not a lot of people consider the effects of diet on mental illness. A lot of studies show that eating poorly leads to mental illness," she said.

Rucklidge planned to speak about the issue as part of a seminar on campus yesterday and today to mark 50 years since the first clinical psychology training programme began in New Zealand at Canterbury University.

Rucklidge said international research was finding that the Western diet could increase the risk of developing depression, anxiety and ADHD. A 2006 New Zealand mental health survey found about 47 per cent of New Zealanders would experience a mental illness or addiction at some point in their lives and one in five Kiwis would be affected by mental illness within one year.

Rucklidge has been investigating dietary influences on mental disorders, including conducting trials to determine whether providing additional nutrients could improve the symptoms of common mental disorders.

One project yet to be published saw 80 participants with ADHD take either a placebo or pills containing a mix of 36 minerals, vitamins and amino acids. The research was under review, but previous studies in this area had shown positive results, Rucklidge said.

She is seeking volunteers for a study into the effect of micronutrients on anxiety and stress in Canterbury children aged between 8 and 11. Those interested can find out more at mentalhealth andnutrition.co.nz

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