Mental illness is an increasing major public health concern. The General Practice: Health of the Nation Report 2018, found that mental health issues remain the most common single reason patients visit their GP and account for 12% of the total disease burden in Australia, third after cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
A growing body of Australian and international research shows that diet, nutrition and physical activity are effective treatments for the most common chronic diseases including depression, yet this is not adequately reflected in treatment guidelines or routinely addressed in clinical practice.
Dr Sam Manger, ASLM President says, “Lifestyle Medicine is not just highly effective in preventing and reversing cardiometabolic disease but it is also useful in mental illness itself. In major depressive disorder, 32% of people with moderate to severe symptoms respond to diet. In addition, regular physical movement is as effective as antidepressants in major depression and can reduce psychiatric symptoms in those with schizophrenia.”
“Sleep disorders are particularly interesting because they cause treatment resistance and significantly worsened depression and psychotic symptoms. Furthermore, intensive lifestyle treatments can result in improved symptoms and slower neurocognitive decline in patients with dementia,” he says.
Karen Wilson, Chair of the Wilson Foundation, says “The Wilson Foundation is proud to be partnering with ASLM to work on this problem by producing evidence-based therapeutic guidelines and education for practitioners in addressing the causes of both chronic disease and poor mental health, which commonly coexist.”
“ASLM is delighted to begin this important work with funding from the Wilson Foundation”, Dr Manger says. “We will publish a series of position statements and therapeutic guidelines for medical practitioners and other health professionals to make lifestyle-based approaches more accessible for practitioners.”
“We will also develop training modules, practitioner resources and patient information, meaning that diet and nutrition, movement, physical activity, sleep hygiene, cessation of smoking, reduction of alcohol consumption and stress management will increasingly be addressed in standard care,” says Dr Manger.
Karen Wilson adds, “Working together with ASLM we look forward to raising awareness of this important issue and advocating for significant change in our health system to address the underlying causes of mental illness and chronic disease, with more effective and innovative models of healthcare.”
With the current prevalence of mental ill-health and the significant costs this imposes on both individuals and the economy, new and innovative strategies to mental health are urgently required.
In 2018 the Wilson Foundation made a decision to further align its efforts to place brain and mental health at the forefront of the Foundation’s focus, which has now come to fruition.
The Wilson Foundation is partnering with three university institutions and Australia’s peak body of Lifestyle Medicine. Our university partners are undertaking innovative research across nutritional psychiatry, addictions and compulsions, dementia and healthy brain ageing. In addition the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine (ASLM) represents and advocates for Lifestyle Medicine to healthcare professions, policy makers and the general public, including curriculum units in GP training.
Through these partnerships it is the Foundation’s intention to support and facilitate collaboration in the area of evidence-based, non-pharmacological approaches to improving brain and mental health outcomes.
The Wilson Foundation will invest $1 million to support Deakin University’s Food & Mood Centre to further its cutting-edge research linking the human gut microbiome to mental and brain health.
The Deakin Food & Mood Centre Director Professor Felice Jacka said the donation, the Centre’s largest to date, would make an innovative and tangible impact to mental health research in Australia.
“The Wilson Foundation partners with experts and communities to deliver impactful and lasting improvements to mental health. The Deakin Food & Mood Centre is delighted to have been selected by the Wilson Foundation as a research partner,” Professor Jacka said.
“The Wilson Foundation’s donation will significantly expand our research that seeks to understand how the gut and its resident microbiota are linked to mental and brain health. We believe these insights will result in new prevention and treatment strategies for disorders that impose the greatest burden of illness across the globe.”
Wilson Foundation Chair Karen Wilson said the five-year partnership would yield new insights into this important field of mental health.
“We are committed to investing in research into the microbiome and its impact on mental and brain health across the life course. We are delighted to partner with Deakin University’s Food & Mood Centre to support this crucial work,” Mrs Wilson said.
Professor Jacka said there was an extensive body of research that showed that the quality of diet was intrinsically linked to mental and brain health. Her ground-breaking SMILES study, published in 2017, was the first randomised clinical trial to show improvements to diet could help treat serious depression.
“We are now understanding that the gut is likely a key pathway to influencing mental and brain health. We also know that gut health can be changed rapidly using dietary strategies, which is why this funding is so crucial,” Professor Jacka said.
“There is also the possibility of treatment by targeted probiotics, antibiotics, and even faecal microbial transplants. This funding from the Wilson Foundation will allow us to fast-track research into this urgent and important topic.”
The $1 million investment follows the Wilson Foundation’s existing partnership with the Food & Mood Centre initiated in 2017, which provided funding for a post-doctorate research fellow and continued research into the microbiome and mental health.