NHMRC triumph for food and mood guru

Improving Health and Wellbeing

A drive to understand the connections between diet and mental health led Deakin’s Associate Professor Felice Jacka to spearhead the development of a whole new field of research – “nutritional psychiatry” – that has begun to transform approaches to treatment and prevention of mental health disorders around the world.

In recognition of her outstanding research achievements, Associate Prof Jacka has been named the top-ranked 2015 applicant for a Career Development Fellowship (Population Health category, level 2) by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

The award was announced at the NHMRC Research Excellence Awards Dinner in Canberra on July 13.

The four-year NHMRC Career Development Fellowships support Australia’s most outstanding early to mid-career health and medical researchers.

Associate Prof Jacka said she was delighted to receive this new accolade from the NHMRC.

“Very few Career Development Fellowships are available, so it was with a sense of profound relief that I learned of my success in being awarded one at the end of last year. To be one of the highest ranked applications is icing on the cake and I am very pleased,” she said.

Associate Prof Jacka is both a Principal Research Fellow within Deakin’s IMPACT SRC and an Honorary Principal Research Fellow at the Centre for Adolescent Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

She also holds honorary research appointments at the University of Melbourne and the Black Dog Institute in NSW.

Associate Professor Jacka has pioneered the development of an extensive and influential evidence base that establishes associations between diet and mental health, particularly depression, across countries, cultures, socioeconomic groups and ages.

“The critical new understanding that diet is relevant to mental health now underpins a new way of conceptualising and approaching mental disorder prevention and treatment,” she said.

“The imperative for such a new approach to the global burden of mental disorders is clear and urgent.

“New research is also pointing to the particular vulnerability of the developing brain and immune system to unhealthy diets, and the importance of these factors to the risk for mental disorders. This has important implications for public health and food policy.”

Felice-Pics

Associate Professor Felice Jacka Centre for Innovation in Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Treatment
Since publishing her breakthrough PhD study linking diet with depressive and anxiety disorders, in the “American Journal of Psychiatry” in 2010, Associate Prof Jacka has overseen an extensive program of research both in Australia and internationally.  

In 2013 she established the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR), which now has more than 300 members across the globe, including researchers from some of the leading universities in the USA, Asia, Europe and the UK.

Over the next four years, her research program will focus on identifying the pathways that mediate the relationships between diet and mental disorders and trial innovative preventive and treatment interventions.

In 2015, the “Scientific American Mind” magazine published a front page article on nutritional psychiatry.

“Lancet Psychiatry” also published the position piece “Nutritional Medicine as Mainstream in Psychiatry” from the ISNPR, while the consensus statement from the ISNPR was published in “World Psychiatry.” These are two of the leading international journals in the field, signifying the acceptance and coming of age of this new area of research.

Read about Associate Prof Jacka’s research:

Centre for Innovation in Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Treatment

The Centre for Innovation in Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Treatment (IMPACT) is a multi-disciplinary Strategic Research Centre that integrates clinical, epidemiological and basic research with a strong translational focus. We contribute to the understanding of the aetiology and impact of psychiatric, musculoskeletal, metabolic and other health disorders.