Nutrition plays role in mental well-being

Jan 6, 2016

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

Social work has a long history of helping prevent food insecurity by supporting programs that supplement diet and nutritional needs of low-income families and single adults.

However, growing research shows an important connection food security and nutrition play not only in physical health, but also mental health, social workers say.

One example is the significant role nutrition plays in both brain and mental health function, particularly in the treatment of eating-related disorders, says NASW member Abigail Natenshon, a psychotherapist and author who has specialized in the treatment of eating disorders for the past four decades.

“Research shows that the neuroplastic brain changes in response to many different kinds of energy-based input and stimuli; the quality of foods we eat is one of the most significant,” she said.

“The process of therapy is about making changes; social workers and health practitioners need to keep in mind that as the person changes, so does the brain; and as the brain changes, so does the person,” Natenshon said. “The body/brain connection is a complete and integrative feedback system. Psychotherapists need to keep in mind that, in treating a client, they are also treating and changing that client’s brain.”

Ingested foods enter the brain as neurochemicals, she said, influencing brain function, for better or for worse.

“Healthful nourishment enhances brain function, which primes the pump for meeting physical, mental and emotional treatment goals,” Natenshon said. “Consider the case of anorexic food restriction, where the malnourished frontal cortex becomes incapable of sound judgment and decision-making, reducing the client’s capacity to benefit from the treatment process.”

From the January 2016 NASW News. Read the full story here.

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