Lecture – Investigating the Link Between Diet and Psychiatric Disease

Available with English captions.

Presented by Rachel A. Ross, MD, PhD, and Kristin N. Javaras, DPhil, PhD, McLean Hospital – Crossroads in Psychiatry lecture

Dietary interventions are gaining popularity for self-directed treatment of emotional issues, including mental illness. Research in humans suggests that dietary interventions, such as a “Mediterranean style” diet can improve depressive symptoms. Studies also indicate that these diets can have a positive impact on individuals with major depressive disorder.

Although interest in the use of the ketogenic diet to improve mental health is growing, rigorous studies in psychiatric populations are lacking.

In this talk, Drs. Javaras and Ross discuss how studies of other populations, such as individuals seeking to lose weight, suggest that the ketogenic diet may improve mood. They report, however, that less is known about the effects of diet on cognitive control, or the set of cognitive functions that are impaired across many mental illnesses. Also, they say that limited existing evidence does not suggest that it improves cognitive control.

Watch now to learn more about:

  • Current literature regarding use of dietary interventions for depression/anxiety
  • Possible gaps in the human literature about how diet affects depression/anxiety and cognitive control
  • Cognitive control, as well as research on the topic

Ross and Javaras say that studying how dietary interventions affect psychiatric symptoms, cognitive function, and underlying brain function in humans is challenging. They explain that it is difficult to enforce dietary adherence in humans. Also, it can be difficult to accurately assess adherence for many diets.

Also, they say, changes in diets are accompanied by weight loss, which has documented effects on depression/anxiety and cognitive control in many studies of dietary interventions. In addition, humans and their environments differ widely in ways that are difficult to control.

Because of these issues, Ross and Javaras assert that animal models are critical to understanding the utility of dietary interventions.

The researchers state that ethologically modeling diagnostic tests for behavior in animal models allows for the study of the effects of the ketogenic diet and other diets in a more controlled environment.

During the lecture, Ross and Javaras present promising results from animal-focused studies. Based on these findings, they are hopeful that this line of research will allow for further investigations into underlying mechanisms, which can inform future drug development.