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Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health


Written by Leslie Korn

Reviewed by Nancy Eichhorn

Did you know that thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency can lead to weakness, irritability and depression? That folate (vitamin B9) deficiency can result in depression, apathy, fatigue, poor sleep, and poor concentration? That people with chronic digestion problems are often anxious and depressed? And believe it or not, that pure maple syrup has the potential to prevent Alzheimer’s and other brain disease?

Nutritional neuroscience is validating the reality that nutritional factors are intertwined with human cognition, behavior and emotions (Sathyanarayana, Asha, Ramesh, & Rao, 2008). In our current milieu of treating the ‘whole’ person— soma, psyche, and spirit—food has finally claimed its well deserved acclaim for its role in the development, management and prevention of our overall health and for specific mental health problems such as depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, and Alzheimer’s disease (Sathyanarayana et al., 2008).

The news isn’t exactly new—in the 1950s Canadian physician/medical researcher Abram Hoffer treated people with schizophrenia using niacin (vitamin B3), while Linus Pauling coined the term ‘orthomolecular’ –the right molecules in the right amounts—in 1968 to describe his method of treatment (he promoted megadoses of Vitamin C). And though some question orthomolecular medicine (maintaining health through nutritional supplementation), the science is clear that both our nutritional choices and our individual biochemistry impact our health.

Despite the fact that food impacts mood, academic programs for psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and so forth, do not include courses in nutrition and mental health. Leslie Korn, PhD, MPH aims to change that one reader at a time, with her insightful and useful publication, Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health: A Complete Guide to the Food-Mood Connection (forward by James Lake, MD).

Written for mental health clinicians, Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health offers foundational information about nutrition and nutrients and the body, along with principles and practices to integrate nutritional therapy with mental health treatment.

To say this book is a complete guide is an understatement. Within 424 pages (including complete references, appendices and online links for more materials), Dr. Korn manages to offer every imaginable support one needs from peer-reviewed data validating her assertions to sample dialogues, case vignettes, goal setting procedures and essential outcomes. She’s created recipes such as coconut milk mocha—her “favorite morning or afternoon guilt-free ‘pick-me-up’”, a chia and nut butter smoothie, a raspberry lime Rickey and an entire appendix (R) for cruciferous vegetable recipes to augment her recommendations and quite simply to offer a new and nutritional way to eat.

There are nine chapters. Chapter 1 begins with the foundational understanding that addresses the question: Why does nutrition matter in mental health? Dr. Korn writes about our “gut brain” in Chapter 2, and ways to listen to our clients discuss their diet and their health as well as assessment techniques in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 covers common diagnoses and typical nutritional culprits followed by Chapter 5: Food Allergies, Sensitives, and Special Diets. There’s information on the best vitamins, minerals, amino acids, glandulars and special nutrients for mental health, side effects and withdrawal from medication, viewing the kitchen as your pharmacy, and finally Chapter 9 brings it all together, making recommendations for success.

Dr. Korn offers specific nutritional protocols for numerous diagnoses/situations, including but not limited to: alcoholism, hypoglycemia, eating disorders, kicking caffeine addiction, and strategies for withdrawal from psychotropic medications. The Appendices are a treasure trove in themselves with comprehensive resources, guidelines, recipes, a sample client intake form, food-mood diary, and lists of foods containing gluten, lactose, casein, dairy, corn and oh so much more.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the go-to textbook for clinicians wanting to bring awareness to food and its impact on their clients’ mental health.

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