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Food is Medicine – Reframing Nutrition in Mental Health Treatment

Last Updated on June 7, 2024 by Carol Gillette

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

Recently the US Congress passed legislation activating a program based on the well-documented premise that food is medicine and this is great news!

For both prevention and recovery in mental health issues, this reframing of nutrition as a powerful driver in successful mental health treatment could change the lives of millions for the better. This has been our goal for a very long time and underlies our passion for non-toxic approaches to treatment.

Food is Medicine …
Nourishment Fosters Wellbeing

reframing depression

For almost 2 decades now, Alternative to Meds Center has helped thousands of people by implementing correct nutrition in their recovery journey. Our programs are largely based on orthomolecular principles, cleansing toxins out of the body, and other holistic strategies that support natural mental health. Our successful treatment outcomes have been well-documented over many years. We are troubled by the overall rise in prescription drug use, toxins in processed foods and in other toxic exposures that are detrimental to a person’s health and well-being. These factors can be seen to parallel the mounting rise in mental health crises. Our aim is to see these trends reversed, and using nutritional approaches to treatment, toxin elimination, and proven effective approaches to health, we see this as a very attainable goal.
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Links Between Food and Mood

links between food and moodIn recent times, some excellent clinical studies have demonstrated clearly that there is a direct correlation between the foods we eat and their effects on mood, quality of sleep, energy, and many other vital factors in health. These insights have positively impacted many government and health agencies around the world who are actively making improvements in public health programs.1-6

Additionally, studies on the toxic effects of food additives and flavor enhancers used in food processing have also been quietly stacking up. Eating the “right stuff” could be looked at as an investment with reliable future returns — but until now, it’s been nearly entirely overlooked in treatment.

Depression has come to be regarded as the leading disability in a global context, and health regulators are taking actions to find real solutions. There are massive studies going on in the EU to provide more clarity on exactly how food affects mood, since the previous solutions of medication and psychiatry have not improved the situation at all adequately, according to a review published in the Antioxidants Journal.7

For instance, the most common response to a patient’s depression is to prescribe antidepressants. Yet antidepressants often cause nausea, fatigue, compulsive eating, loss of appetite, weight changes, and there are concerns as to self-harm & suicidality.8 That’s a whole bucket of gasoline to pour on anyone, especially one who is already suffering a vulnerable state.

Physicians are encouraged to prescribe drugs. So they do. But massive volumes of research show that food is medicine. Food and emotional and physical health are linked and such treatment is effective without the side effects of drugs.

Examples of how food and mood are related:
  • Mediterranean diet (fresh and natural, unprocessed food) is associated with improved cognitive function, memory, emotions, sleep quality, heart health, and overall longer life expectancy.9,10
  • Use of probiotics restores gut microbiota resulting in reduction of depression, anxiety and other stress-related symptoms11,12
  • Adequate nutrients (vitamins, antioxidants, psychobiotics) through diet and supplementation provide positive benefits for overall mental and physical health including lower stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as improved endocrine function, brain function, and uncountable other positive outcomes.13-15
  • Chemicals such as food preservatives, taste enhancers, coloring, artificial and sugar-based sweeteners in foods are associated with worsened depression, migraines, excess free radicals, oxidative stress, inflammation, and other neurophysiologic effects.15,16

The Pharmaceutical Industry … a Dinosaur Dressed in a White Coat?

drugs vs nutrition for mental healthIt is factual that drug companies fund their own research to a marked degree, and use ghost-writers and well-remunerated “guest authorship” to write positive reports to sell their products to doctors and patients.

Other means of promoting pharma products come in the form of undisclosed payments to lobbyists in governmental arenas, physician speaking fees, research grants, advisory board participation, and many other ways.17-19

All of these tactics have resulted in a massive credibility deficit. It could be said that money has replaced health as an overall goal. That sounds like an extinction level event. Thankfully many physicians recognize this problem and are turning to “do no harm” alternatives like nutrition-based therapies and other holistic strategies in treating patients effectively.20

Food is Medicine by Definition

The word “medicine” is a very old word. It comes from “med” meaning “take appropriate measures” and “know the best course for” and the late Latin “medeor,” meaning “to cure, heal.”

And “physician” means “a healer, one who practices the art of healing and preserving health.”

And the word “drug” originally meant “to make narcotic or poisonous.” 21,22

Some things — like truth — never get old.

Alternative to Meds Center’s Food is Medicine Approach to Mental Health Recovery

While nutrition is not the sole approach to mental health recovery at Alternative to Meds Center, it is a substantial pillar among several used to help our clients.

using food as medicine sedona drug rehabA thorough battery of lab testing is used to determine nutrient deficiencies and also the extent and composition of the toxic burden a person’s body has been carrying around. Both of these are addressed in a personalized inpatient therapeutic program. When the neurotoxin burden is removed, mood, sleep quality, energy levels all respond positively.

Where drugs are involved, a slow and safe tapering program can then be introduced to wean a person off drugs which in most cases have become a crippling burden. This is because drugs are neurotoxic and disabling.23,24 Prescription drugs manipulate natural processes in hormones, neurons, and other communication systems in the body. In contrast, neurotransmitter rehabilitation is a natural process that occurs when the toxins are cleared out, and correct therapies are put into action, allowing natural function to be re-established.

The use of exercise and a wide range of comfort therapies plus therapeutic counseling are provided to make recovery a clear, comfortable, and well-lit path. The correction of diet is an ongoing process throughout, based on the principles of orthomolecular medicine. Food and mood are correlates and nutrition including diet and supplements are precision tools that promote regaining natural mental health. To find out more about our “food is medicine” approach in recovery you are warmly invited to contact us directly for any questions or guidance needs that you or your loved one may want help with.


1. Manderscheid R. et al (CDC authors) Evolving Definitions of Mental Illness and Wellness published in Journal of Public Health Research Vol 7 No. 1 A10 online Jan 2010 [cited 2024 June 6]

2. Cain KS, Meyer SC, Cummer E, Patel KK, Casacchia NJ, Montez K, Palakshappa D, Brown CL. Association of Food Insecurity with Mental Health Outcomes in Parents and Children. Acad Pediatr. 2022 Sep-Oct;22(7):1105-1114. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2022.04.010. Epub 2022 May 13. PMID: 35577282; PMCID: PMC10153634. [cited 2024 June 6]

3. USDA Key Statistics Report on Food Security Status of US Households in 2022 [published online Oct 25 2023] [cited 2024 June 6]

4. USDA Food Insecurity, Chronic Disease, and Health Among Working-Age Adults [published online July 2017] [cited 2024 June 6]

5. AlAmmar, Welayah & Albeesh, Fatima & Khattab, Rabie. (2020). Food and Mood: the Corresponsive Effect. Current Nutrition Reports. 9. 10.1007/s13668-020-00331-3. [cited 2024 June 6]

6. Taylor AM, Holscher HD. A review of dietary and microbial connections to depression, anxiety, and stress. Nutr Neurosci. 2020 Mar;23(3):237-250. doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2018.1493808. Epub 2018 Jul 9. PMID: 29985786. [cited 2024 June 6]

7. Huang Q, Liu H, Suzuki K, Ma S, Liu C. Linking What We Eat to Our Mood: A Review of Diet, Dietary Antioxidants, and Depression. Antioxidants (Basel). 2019 Sep 5;8(9):376. doi: 10.3390/antiox8090376. PMID: 31491962; PMCID: PMC6769512. [cited 2024 June 6]

8. Gunnell D, Ashby D. Antidepressants and suicide: what is the balance of benefit and harm. BMJ. 2004 Jul 3;329(7456):34-8. doi: 10.1136/bmj.329.7456.34. PMID: 15231620; PMCID: PMC443451. [cited 2024 June 6]

9. Tosti V, Bertozzi B, Fontana L. Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet: Metabolic and Molecular Mechanisms. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2018 Mar 2;73(3):318-326. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glx227. PMID: 29244059; PMCID: PMC7190876. [cited 2024 June 6]

10. Ventriglio A, Sancassiani F, Contu MP, Latorre M, Di Slavatore M, Fornaro M, Bhugra D. Mediterranean Diet and its Benefits on Health and Mental Health: A Literature Review. Clin Pract Epidemiol Ment Health. 2020 Jul 30;16(Suppl-1):156-164. doi: 10.2174/1745017902016010156. PMID: 33029192; PMCID: PMC7536728. [cited 2024 June 6]

11. Clapp M, Aurora N, Herrera L, Bhatia M, Wilen E, Wakefield S. Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clin Pract. 2017 Sep 15;7(4):987. doi: 10.4081/cp.2017.987. PMID: 29071061; PMCID: PMC5641835. [cited 2024 June 6]

12. Arneth BM. Gut-brain axis biochemical signalling from the gastrointestinal tract to the central nervous system: gut dysbiosis and altered brain function. Postgrad Med J. 2018 Aug;94(1114):446-452. doi: 10.1136/postgradmedj-2017-135424. Epub 2018 Jul 19. PMID: 30026389. [cited 2024 June 6]

13. Muscaritoli M. The Impact of Nutrients on Mental Health and Well-Being: Insights From the Literature. Front Nutr. 2021 Mar 8;8:656290. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2021.656290. PMID: 33763446; PMCID: PMC7982519. [cited 2024 June 6]

14. Grajek M, Krupa-Kotara K, Białek-Dratwa A, Sobczyk K, Grot M, Kowalski O, Staśkiewicz W. Nutrition and mental health: A review of current knowledge about the impact of diet on mental health. Front Nutr. 2022 Aug 22;9:943998. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2022.943998. PMID: 36071944; PMCID: PMC9441951. [cited 2024 June 6]

15. Firth J, Gangwisch JE, Borisini A, Wootton RE, Mayer EA. Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing? BMJ. 2020 Jun 29;369:m2382. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m2382. Erratum in: BMJ. 2020 Nov 9;371:m4269. PMID: 32601102; PMCID: PMC7322666. [cited 2024 June 6]

16. Choudhary AK, Lee YY. Neurophysiological symptoms and aspartame: What is the connection? Nutr Neurosci. 2018 Jun;21(5):306-316. doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2017.1288340. Epub 2017 Feb 15. PMID: 28198207. [cited 2024 June 6]

17. Moffatt, B., & Elliott, C. (2007). Ghost Marketing: Pharmaceutical Companies and Ghostwritten Journal Articles. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 50(1), 18-31. [cited 2024 June 6]

18. Sismondo S. Ghost management: how much of the medical literature is shaped behind the scenes by the pharmaceutical industry? PLoS Med. 2007 Sep;4(9):e286. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0040286. PMID: 17896859; PMCID: PMC1989751. [cited 2024 June 6]

19. Mansi BA, Clark J, David FS, Gesell TM, Glasser S, Gonzalez J, Haller DG, Laine C, Miller CL, Mooney LA, Zecevic M. Ten recommendations for closing the credibility gap in reporting industry-sponsored clinical research: a joint journal and pharmaceutical industry perspective. Mayo Clin Proc. 2012 May;87(5):424-9. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2012.02.009. PMID: 22560521; PMCID: PMC3538468. [cited 2024 June 6]

20. Song E, Ang L, Lee MS. Increasing trends and impact of integrative medicine research: From 2012 to 2021. Integr Med Res. 2022 Dec;11(4):100884. doi: 10.1016/j.imr.2022.100884. Epub 2022 Aug 5. PMID: 36052205; PMCID: PMC9424573. [cited 2024 June 6]

21. Oxford English Dictionary, Definition of verb “drug” c.1616 published online [cited 2024 June 6]

22. Etymonline Dictionary Derivation of noun medicine c. 1200, published online [cited 2024 June 6]

23. Arné-Bès MC. Neuropathies médicamenteuses: mise a jour récente des données (1996 a 2003) [Neurotoxic effects of medications: an update]. Rev Med Liege. 2004;59 Suppl 1:118-23. French. PMID: 15244167.

24. Sienaert P, van Harten P, Rhebergen D. The psychopharmacology of catatonia, neuroleptic malignant syndrome, akathisia, tardive dyskinesia, and dystonia. Handb Clin Neurol. 2019;165:415-428. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-64012-3.00025-3. PMID: 31727227.

Originally Published June 7, 2024 by Diane Ridaeus

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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Medical Disclaimer:
Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.

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