Nutrition and the Brain


The brain is an incredibly powerful organ. It’s constantly working to ensure our body functions well, it alerts us to any threats, such as pain or danger, and continually thinks and problem-solves, even when we are asleep. The food we eat impacts cognitive function, and nutrition can significantly affect how the brain works and even our mental health.

Food and Mental Health

Nutrition is vital for good physical health. When the body receives the proper nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, it operates more effectively, reducing the risk of illness or injury; the same applies to the brain.

Food and nutrition can directly affect the production of serotonin, a vital neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood, pain, and sleep. 95% of serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, which is lined with millions of nerve cells. These nerve cells are also influenced by good bacteria in the intestines, which play a significant role in health and well-being. The good bacteria protect the gut lining from inflammation and improve nutrient absorption from food.

Many studies have focused on the relationship between diet and mental health. Research has found that women with diets higher in fruits, fish, vegetables, and whole grains are less likely to struggle with depression or anxiety disorders than those with diets high in processed foods.[1]

Specific nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins B and E help to maintain cognitive function by improving the way brain cells communicate and have been associated with better brain health as people age. However, the nutrients in food are not the only things that can affect mental health – some studies suggest that the action of sharing a meal with others can foster deeper connections between people and improve mental health and well-being.

Depression and Nutrition

Depression is the most common mental health condition in the UK. Diet and nutrition can influence depression a surprising amount, with several studies focusing on how different vitamins or supplements can help to improve or reduce symptoms.

One study found that those struggling with depression can also have low levels of zinc and vitamins B1, B2, and C.[2] Improving your diet can be a big step to improving gut health, which can help stimulate the production of serotonin. This, in turn, can assist with symptoms of depression such as low mood.

Vitamin B6 and Mental Health

A recent study found that there may be a link between vitamin B6 and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.[3] Vitamin B6 is found in foods such as chickpeas, fruits, and tuna and is used by the body to store energy from protein and carbohydrates and create haemoglobin to carry oxygen around the body.

The study, published in the Journal of Human Psychopharmacology, studied 300 people who took either a B6 supplement, B12 supplement, or a placebo tablet and found evidence to support the theory that B6 could improve and support mental health. This may be due to a rebalancing of chemicals.

Other bodies of research have linked mental health conditions to an imbalance in certain neurons and brain chemicals that carry information around the brain, leading to increased activity. B6 helps to produce a chemical that inhibits these impulses and soothes brain activity, helping to reduce anxiety amongst the control group.

The study’s results also hinted that B6 could help increase gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) production, which helps decrease nervous system activity, producing a calming effect that can help with anxiety. However, the dose of vitamin B6 given in the study is much higher than that recommended by the NHS, which advises against taking no more than 200mg daily. Taking B6 is also not a replacement for professional treatment for mental health conditions. More research is needed in this area to define results and recommendations, although the current evidence looks promising.

Improving Diet and Nutrition

There is not just one healthy way to eat. Small dietary changes, such as limiting processed foods and increasing fruit and vegetable intake, can all add up. There are multiple ways to improve diet, including:

  • Eat regularly – eating healthy snacks and meals at regular intervals is great for stabilising blood sugar and helping to regulate mood. Low blood sugar can lead to tiredness and irritability, but having healthy snacks on hand can prevent this and can help maintain energy throughout the day.
  • Limit processed food – eating sugary processed foods can contribute to inflammation throughout the body, affecting your mood and making you more anxious or depressed. A diet high in whole foods provides the brain with all the nutrients it needs and helps to support a more positive mood.
  • Stay hydrated – the human body is up to 60% water, so drinking plenty of water and fluids is vital. Dehydration can put a lot of stress on the body, causing irritation, confusion, headaches, and low energy, and it can also lead to cravings for processed foods high in sugar. Drinking around 2 litres of water per day for women and 2.5 litres for men can help support the body and keep cells hydrated and happy.

Whilst improving your diet has many benefits, it is not a substitute for professional treatment. Those struggling with past trauma can find it incredibly difficult to cope with their symptoms, and although a balanced diet and improved nutrition can help, it is not a complete cure. Do not hesitate to seek help and support if you are struggling with your mental health.

Nutrition affects the brain in many ways. The more balanced your diet is, the better supported your brain is, as it receives valuable nutrients that improve brain function and support better mental health.

If you have a client or know of someone struggling with anything you have read in this blog, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential program and outpatient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long-lasting recovery. For more information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).


[1] Jacka, Felice N. et al. “Association Of Western And Traditional Diets With Depression And Anxiety In Women”. American Journal Of Psychiatry, vol 167, no. 3, 2010, pp. 305-311. American Psychiatric Association Publishing, Accessed 29 Sept 2022.

[2] Mentalhealth.Org.Uk, 2022,

[3] Field, David T. et al. “High‐Dose Vitamin B6 Supplementation Reduces Anxiety And Strengthens Visual Surround Suppression”. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical And Experimental, 2022. Wiley, Accessed 29 Sept 2022.