Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that more than 40% of American adults are classified as obese and 36% report symptoms of anxiety, depression or both. According to Shebani Sethi, MD, a clinical assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, the two epidemics are closely linked.
Board-certified in both psychiatry and obesity medicine, Sethi is the founder of Stanford Medicine’s Metabolic Psychiatry Clinic, the first academic clinic focused on treating patients with both mental illness and metabolic disorders — conditions like insulin resistance or pre-diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, and overweight or obesity.
Sethi coined the term “metabolic psychiatry” in 2015 after seeing a high prevalence of metabolic disorders among her treatment-resistant psychiatric patients and realizing that to provide proper psychiatric care, she needed to address the two problems simultaneously.
She spoke with us about how metabolic disorders affect the brain and how treating mental illness with nutrition can offer new hope for patients.
1. How do you define metabolic psychiatry?
Metabolic psychiatry is a new subspeciality focused on targeting and treating metabolic dysfunction to improve mental health outcomes. Growing evidence points to a connection between mental illness and altered metabolism in the brain; thus, treatment addressing this dysfunction may improve patient outcomes.
The rates of metabolic conditions are already very high in the general population. One study found that up to 88% of American adults have poor metabolic health, and in people with psychiatric diseases, the rates are higher. In fact, research from Stanford Medicine colleagues suggests that developing a metabolic disorder such as insulin resistance can double your risk for depression, even if you have no prior history of mental illness.
The good news is that in our clinic, we’ve seen encouraging improvements in mental health after treating metabolic conditions through non-pharmacological methods (including diet and lifestyle changes) in combination with medications. Research shows that those with treatment-resistant bipolar…