Foundation-Funded Research Demonstrates Importance of Nutrition for Mental Health

Felice Jacka, Ph.D., of Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, mental health research expert
Felice Jacka, Ph.D.

A Brain & Behavior Research Foundation-funded study has shown that pre-natal and early post-natal diet plays an even larger role in the development of mental illness than previously suspected. 2010 NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee, Felice Jacka, Ph.D., of Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia and colleagues worked in collaboration with a research team in Norway. The results of their work show a direct link between emotional and behavioral well-being and the nutritional intake in mothers-to-be and their children through age five.

Published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry on July 19th, the research included data from 23,000 mothers and their children. Using a series of questionnaires, the mothers involved in the study were asked about their diets during pregnancy and their children’s diets at six and 18 months, and again at three and five years of age. Diet quality was evaluated and characterized as “healthy” or “unhealthy.” Children surveyed at 18 months, three years and five years were evaluated for conduct disorders, depression, anxiety and ADHD. Those exhibiting symptoms were far more likely to have had mothers who had “unhealthy” diets while pregnant and who also had unhealthy diets post-natally.

“Early-life nutrition, including the nutrition received while the child is in utero, is related to physical health outcomes in children—their risk for later heart disease or diabetes for example,” said Dr. Jacka, lead author of the study. She continued, “But this is the first study indicating diet is also important to mental health outcomes in children. It is now more clear than ever that diet matters to mental health right across the age spectrum.”

Read more about this study.

Read the abstract for this research.