What is Nutritional Therapy?
Nutritional therapy is a holistic therapy, which complements medicine and other therapies. It is defined as the application of nutrition science for the promotion of health.
Nutritional therapy aims to optimise biochemistry by affecting the balance of nutrients and other biochemicals. Many mental health symptoms are caused or exacerbated by biochemical imbalances including nutrient deficiencies.
Benefits can be significant and broad. Side-effects and risks are negligible for most people.
Nutritional therapy works very well alongside other treatments. Side-effects of medication can often be improved and psychological therapies appear to be more effective in patients who are well-nourished and whose biochemistry is in better balance.
Patients are often looking for other ways to improve their mental health and many have an interest in ‘natural’ approaches to health.
How does Nutritional Therapy work?
At the initial appointment, the nutritional therapist takes a full case history including current and past symptoms, medical history, family history, diet and lifestyle habits. She may recommend nutritional tests to assess some of the factors which may be contributing to symptoms such as nutrient deficiencies.
Practical dietary and lifestyle advice is given which is tailored to the individual. Genetic, environmental and psychosocial factors are considered.
Dietary supplements are often recommended to address any shortfall in the short-term while improvements to dietary intake are made. Drug-nutrient interactions are carefully managed.
Most patients have a series of about three to six appointments over a 12-18 month period.
Nutritional therapy is covered by some health insurance policies.
What is the evidence?
The evidence base for nutritional therapy is growing.
There is good evidence for a range of factors including improved blood glucose control, essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, vitamin D, magnesium and zinc), amino acids (including L-trytophan, 5-HTP, L-tyrosine), polyphenols (the substances which give plant foods their colour), dietary patterns such as the Mediterranean diet, gut flora (microbiome), food intolerances (including non-coeliac gluten sensitivity), stress, exercise and sleep.
Who is Nutritional Therapy suitable for?
Most patients will benefit from nutritional therapy, including those who already think they eat a healthy diet. In reality, most people don’t eat as well as they would like to think they do, and many will have individual factors (genetic and environmental) which predispose, precipitate or perpetuate nutritional influences on their mental health.
Nutritional therapy works as both an adjunctive and standalone therapy. It works best if psychological issues are being or have been addressed.