What is the role of dietary inflammation in severe mental illness? A review of observational and experimental findings

Joseph Firth, Nicola Veronese, Jack Cotter, Nitin Shivappa, James R. Hebert, Carolyn Ee, Lee Smith, Brendon Stubbs, Sarah E. Jackson, Jerome Sarris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Severe mental illnesses (SMI), including major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, are associated with increased inflammation. Given diet's role in modulating inflammatory processes, excessive calorie-dense, nutrient-deficient processed food intake may contribute toward the heightened inflammation observed in SMI. This review assesses the evidence from observational and experimental studies to investigate how diet may affect physical and mental health outcomes in SMI through inflammation-related pathways. Cross-sectional studies indicate that individuals with SMI, particularly schizophrenia, consume more pro-inflammatory foods and fewer anti-inflammatory nutrients than the general population. Cohort studies indicate that high levels of dietary inflammation are associated with increased risk of developing depression, but there is currently a lack of evidence for schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Randomized controlled trials show that dietary interventions improve symptoms of depression, but none have tested the extent to which these benefits are due to changes in inflammation. This review summarizes evidence on dietary inflammation in SMI, explores the directionality of these links, and discusses the potential use of targeted nutritional interventions for improving psychological well-being and physical health outcomes in SMI. Establishing the extent to which diet explains elevated levels of inflammatory markers observed in SMI is a priority for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number305
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Issue numberMAY
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2019


  • Bipolar disorder
  • Nutrients
  • Nutrition
  • Schizophrenia
  • Vitamin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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