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Exploring the role of nutrition in wellbeing

Food & Mood Workshop – exploring the role of nutrition in wellbeing

The Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand is hosting a public event on Saturday, 8 September at Massey University’s Wellington campus bringing together two of the world’s leading researchers in the field of Food, Mood, and Nutritional Psychiatry.

The keynote speakers at the Food & Mood event, Professor Felice Jacka and Professor Julia Rucklidge, are leaders in the field of nutritional psychiatry who conduct trailblazing research and work hard to bring awareness to the role of nutrition in psychological well-being.

Professor Felice Jacka, Director of the Food and Mood Centre (Deakin University) and Founding President of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR), ran the first randomised control trial of a dietary intervention for major depression.

Professor Jacka pioneered and expedited the development of a robust body of evidence regarding the influence of lifestyle behaviours, particularly diet, on common mental disorders and is now recognised as a research leader in this field. She will provide an up-to-date, critical assessment of the evidence regarding the impact of diet quality on depression, anxiety across age groups and countries. She will then address the rapidly developing evidence base pointing to diet as a critically important and modifiable risk factor in parents prior to conception and in pregnant mothers and their children. She will also focus on the new evidence for the microbiome-gut-brain axis in mood and behaviour, and new evidence for diet as a clinical strategy for improving mental and brain health.

Professor Julia Rucklidge leads the Nutrition and Mental Health Research Group (University of Canterbury). Her research has focused on the role of micronutrients as a therapy for various mental health experiences. Her interest in nutrition and mental health grew out of her own research showing poor outcomes for children with significant psychiatric difficulties despite receiving conventional treatments for their conditions.

In the last decade, she and her lab has been running clinical trials investigating the role of broad-spectrum micronutrients in the expression of mental health concerns, specifically ADHD, mood disorders, anxiety and stress associated with the Canterbury earthquakes.

She was the recipient of the Ballin Award 2015 from the NZ Psychologist Society, an award that recognises notably significant contributions to the development or enhancement of clinical psychology in Aotearoa New Zealand. She was also named in the top 100 Most Influential Women in New Zealand in 2015 and received a Braveheart award in 2018 for her contribution to making Christchurch a better place to live.

Dr Karen Faisandier, a Wellington Clinical Psychologist and lead organiser of the event, says; “Both speakers bring a wealth of knowledge to this area and this will make for a fascinating and informative event. We are thrilled to have them join us and to share their work with our community.

“With depressive disorders the leading source of disability globally, the identification of new targets for prevention and management is imperative. The last hundred years have seen major shifts in dietary intakes globally, with a marked increase in the consumption of sugars, snack foods, takeaway foods and high-energy foods. At the same time, the consumption of nutrient-dense foods, such as animal products, vegetables and raw fruits, is diminishing.

Unhealthy diet, as a key contributor to the high prevalence of noncommunicable diseases, is now recognised as the leading risk factor for early mortality globally. However, there is now an overwhelming body of evidence to tell us that an unhealthy diet is also a key risk factor for psychiatric difficulties, including depression, anxiety, and dementia. Taken together with the evidence concerning the influence of physical activity and smoking on the risk for and treatment outcomes in many mental disorders, these findings highlight the fact that while ‘there is no health without mental health’, the opposite is also true.

Co-founders of the charitable social enterprise Wellbeing Wellington, Andrea Bates and Sarah O’Connor, will follow these talks with a practical discussion about utilising nutritional interventions for health/mental health.

“Our aim is to provide an event with a sense of community, discussion, understanding and useful information that can assist participants to enhance their wellbeing, rather than simply lecture on it.”


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