Proper nutrition is a critical aspect of normal brain development and function, and without it a broad range of disorders of the central nervous system can occur. Disorders like depression and schizophrenia are linked to chemical imbalances that are observed when vitamin deficiencies are present. Therefore, part of mental disorder prevention involves an adequate supply of certain vitamins. Professional medical advice should be sought before trying to prevent, treat or cure any mental disorder.
The B vitamins folate, B5 and B12 have been found to impact the central nervous system. Folate is found naturally in foods and helps the body make new cells, B12 is needed for the production of red blood cells and for nervous system functioning, and B5 is needed for a variety of functions in the body, including energy production. Vitamin D is required for bone development and also is important in the maintenance of mental health, especially in older adults, according to an article in the December 2006 issue of the "American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry."
Low levels of folate, B12 or B5 can lead to a variety of psychiatry conditions such as depression, according to an article published in December 2007 in "Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine," and also are associated with dementia. Vitamin D deficiencies also have been linked with mood disorders, namely depression, according to research described in the December 2006 "American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry" article. Specifically, patients with low vitamin D levels had more symptoms of depression. The symptoms assessed by the researchers included feelings of worthlessness, depressed mood, diminished interest in things once enjoyed and suicidal ideation.
B vitamin deficiencies can lead to high blood homocysteine levels. Homocystein is a part of a protein that can build up and lead to heart disease and stroke. An imbalance of homocysteine is related to mental health issues such as depression, according to an article in "Cutting Edge." Neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's also are related to deficiencies of folate, B12 and B5, and the related elevation of blood homocysteine levels, according to the December 2007 "Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine" article.
The four most prevalent mental illnesses in the world are depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder, but the prevalence rates for the four disorders differ quite significantly from one location to another. While America has an overall rate of about 26 percent, China's rate is about 4 percent, according to an article in 2008 in the "Nutritional Journal." Different diagnostic standards account for part of the difference, but a significant part of the problem appears to be that the common American diet, unlike the common Chinese diet, is deficient in vitamins needed for optimal mental health. Such geographic differences highlight the importance of nutrition.
Nutrition directly impacts brain function, but the nature of the relationship is complex. For instance, nutritional deficiencies can leave a person less capable of coping with stress, and this stress can in turn accentuate mental illness, according to an article in March 2009 in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition." Nutritional deficiencies can give rise to development problems in a more indirect fashion, as well. For example, an infant with a nutritional deficiency might move and gesture less, resulting in fewer responses from caregivers in the child's environment. Since response-related interactions are important for the healthy mental development of infants, brain development can be further hindered by a lack of behavioral stimulation.