FOOD FOR THOUGHT: uOttawa to explore relationship between nutrition and mental health

Posted on Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Brain pictorial composed with food

Thanks to an anonymous $5M gift, the University of Ottawa School of Nutrition Sciences will study the link between food and mental wellbeing.

Could there be a causal link between the types of intestinal micro-organisms, the way they function under different conditions and depression, anxiety-related disorders, Parkinson’s disease or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder? Are there foods or food components that are more prone to affect mental functions or are there links between the central nervous system and the gut microbiota that affect food choices? There is growing evidence that links exist between food, mental health and overall wellbeing. But there is scant research that looks into exactly how food affects our gut and what role it may have on our overall mental wellbeing.

“It is exciting to be contributing to this emerging research area,” explained Dr. Hélène Perrault, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences. “It will allow us to develop and lead an international network of experts to explore issues such as the impact of the microbiotic composition of the gut and its function on the mental health continuum, or how food may interact with a medication regimen to affect food absorption and gut microbiotic composition.  It is also anticipated that the research will translate into recommendations around eating behaviors or better adjusted nutritional prescription across the spectrum of mental wellness.”

The School of Nutrition Sciences, endowed by a $5 million gift, will combine academic research expertise in food biochemistry and biotechnologies, microbiology and genomics. The School will bring together researchers in basic and applied sciences to conduct health-outcome related research to explore how food may be used to optimize cognitive function and mental wellness.

“It is now recognized that good nutrition can help prevent a wide range of chronic diseases affecting the health of Canadians,” added Dr. Susan Tosh, Director of the School of Nutrition Sciences and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences. “By focussing on the linkages between food and the microbiome and its effects on mental wellbeing, we will open the door to new interventions and potentially affect real change to address a growing concern in our society.”

This new research axis will also examine the bi-directional interactions that determine how food and its bioactive components affect the composition and function of the gut microbiota and how that relationship, in turn, modifies cognitive function and mental health. Conversely, they will also study how mood affects food choices.

This generous gift will be primarily used to support the work of emerging researchers and their teams of post-doctoral fellows and doctoral students. It will enable international exchanges and networking, and foster the enhanced links for research translation and applications for mental wellness.

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