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Mental Health: Where Nutrition meets Psychiatry. Presented by Nicola Walters, RD, South Africa

In Nicola’s presentation she gives a comprehensive review of the most recent international evidence for the effect of diet in mental health.

She begins by examining global mental health statistics as a leading cause of global disability then provides an analysis of the evidence:

  • Diet as a whole. Unhealthy dietary practices are common in severe mental illness. The consumption of dietary fibre, whole grains, vegetables and fresh fruits is associated with a decreased risk of depression.
  • A diet with a high glycaemic load is associated with higher plasma concentrations of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of low-grade inflammation. Insulin resistance induces dopaminergic dysfunction leading to anxiety and behavioural disorders.
  • Dietary fat quality and quantity may impact cognition (but this is difficult to ascertain in human populations).
  • The SMILES trial showed that dietary intervention, delivered by a clinical dietitian, can improve symptoms of major depressive disorder. The result of this trial has significant implications for the treatment of unipolar depression.
  • Key nutrients; folic acid, Vitamin B12 and B6 are essential for neuronal function and severe deficiencies are linked to psychiatric disease. Polymorphisms of certain genes involved in B vitamin absorption metabolism and function i.e. MTHFR, CBS, TCN2 and MTRR have been linked to psychiatric conditions.

Nicola explains the complex biological pathways involved in gut brain connection, inflammatory pathways and oxidative stress which also impact on mental health.

She summarises common psychiatric medications and their nutrition related side effects.

Finally, she gives strategies for putting this nutrition information into practice. “Accredited Practising Dietitians translate nutrition science into practical advice to improve the nutritional status of patients with mental illness, and prevent and manage comorbidities in a variety of care settings”.

Nicola Walters, RD (SA) obtained her Bachelor of Sciences Medical Honours Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics (Cum Laude) at the University of Cape Town. She has worked as an associate Dietitian at Nutritional Solutions Johannesburg since 2013. Nicola has a special interest in the nutritional management of mental health, allergies and chronic diseases of lifestyle. She consults regularly for the media, having written for publications such as Longevity, Health24 and Men’s Health. Nicola has held the CPD portfolio on the ADSA South Gauteng Branch Committee and was a member of the PR team for the ADSA Executive Committee. She is now a member of the ICD Marketing Committee that is hosting the international conference in Cape Town in September 2020. She is an active member of ADSA and is registered with the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

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