Nutrition and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

by Emmanuelle Flores, Joshua Garcia, Cena Gillana, and Zianie Silva

What is Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that develops after a traumatic experience.[1] It was first observed in war veterans, thus the earlier names “shell shock” or “combat fatigue”. However, PTSD is not only common among military soldiers. Victims and witnesses of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, accidents, deaths, incidents of sexual assault, and other similar grave events can also develop PTSD[1][2]

People who have PTSD deal with intense, disturbing, and upsetting thoughts and feelings even long after the traumatic event has transpired.[2] They may experience flashbacks, recurring memories, or dreams that are related to the experience. They also tend to avoid places, events, or objects that remind them of the traumatic event. Cognition and mood symptoms may also be present such as difficulty remembering important details of the event, feelings of isolation and detachment, and difficulty in feeling positive emotions, among others.[1] 

Pub by Diego Caña and Bea Jacinto

How does trauma affect nutrition? 

Studies show that people who experienced traumatic events are prone to metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes[3] [4] [5] [6]. These are associated with a tendency to emotional binge eating and indulgence in unhealthy foods and substances as common coping mechanisms.

Dietary Approaches for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder


  • Omega 3 fatty acids [7]
    • Has a role in the production of nerve cells
    • Found in nuts, seeds, plant oils
  • Amino acids: found in protein-rich foods [7]
    • Tryptophan: precursor to serotonin
    • Phenylalanine and tyrosine: promotes production of antidepressants (dopamine and norepinephrine)
  • Probiotics and Prebiotics [7][8]
    • Both prebiotics and probiotics have a huge impact in promoting the overall health of the gut microbiota. Research has shown the important role of the gut microbiota in potentially treating mental health disorders through the gut-brain-axis.[9]
      • Probiotics and prebiotics have been shown to increase stress resilience [7][8]
  • Vitamins and Minerals [7]
    • Found in most food groups including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
    • Emphasis on Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Magnesium, Selenium
      • Found to have roles in stress response


  • High refined carbohydrates [10]
    • Score highly on the glycemic index 
    • May facilitate anxiety and depressive-like behaviors after stress
    • Examples include sodas, fruit juices with added sugar, and beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. 
  • Alcohol [11] 
    • Worsen PTSD symptoms 
    • US veterans over the age of 65 with PTSD, drinking problems, or depression had higher risk for suicidal attempt
    • Trauma-induced co-occurring alcoholism may be more likely to occur [12]
  • Fast food [13]
    • PTSD symptoms are positively associated with a higher frequency of fast food consumption 
    • Those with lower-income and rely on inexpensive fast food are at higher risk for developing unhealthy dieting practices. 
  • Soda [13]
    • Excessive caffeine increases feelings of hypervigilance in trauma victims.
    • Stress-induced consumption of soda and fear of weight gain combined may result in unhealthy dieting practices. 

Altogether, it should be taken into account that there are still insufficient clinical studies regarding these, and consultation and regular monitoring by a qualified physician and dietitian are advised.


The contents of this article are for educational purposes and are not intended as a substitute for professional or personal medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek advice from your mental health professional or other qualified health providers about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this page/website.


[1] National Institute of Mental Health. (2020). Post-traumatic stress disorder (NIH Publication No. 20-MH-8124.

[2] American Psychiatric Association. (2020, August). What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?

[3] Gavrieli, A., Farr, O. M., Davis, C. R., Crowell, J.A., & Mantzoros, C. S. (2015). Early life adversity and/or posttraumatic stress disorder severity are associated with poor diet quality, including consumption of trans fatty acids, and fewer hours of resting or sleeping in a US middle-aged population: A cross-sectional and prospective study. Metabolism, 64(11), 1597-1610.

[4] Hall, K. S., Hoerster, K. D., & Yancy, W. S. (2015). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Physical Activity, and Eating Behaviors. Epidemiologic Reviews, 37(1), 103-115.

[5] Michopoulos, V., Vester, A., & Neigh, G. (2016). Posttraumatic stress disorder: A metabolic disorder in disguise?. Experimental neurology, 284(Pt B), 220–229.

[6] Van den Berk-Clark, C., Secrest, S., Walls, J., Hallberg, E., Lustman, P. J., Schneider, F. D., & Scherrer, J. F. (2018). Association between posttraumatic stress disorder and lack of exercise, poor diet, obesity, and co-occuring smoking: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Health psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 37(5), 407–416.

[7] Singh, K. (2016). Nutrient and Stress Management. Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences, 6(4).

[8] Toyoda, A. (2020). Nutritional interventions for promoting stress resilience: Recent progress using psychosocial stress models of rodents. Animal Science Journal, 91(1).

[9] Clapp, M., Aurora, N., Herrera, L., Bhatia, M., Wilen, E., & Wakefield, S. (2017). Gut Microbiota’s Effect on Mental Health: The Gut-Brain Axis. Clinics and Practice, 7(4), 131–136.

[10] Santos, C. J., Ferreira, A. V. M., Oliveira, A. L., Oliveira, M. C., Gomes, J. S., & Aguiar, D. C. (2016). Carbohydrate-enriched diet predispose to anxiety and depression-like behavior after stress in mice. Nutritional Neuroscience, 21(1), 33–39.

[11] U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). PTSD and Problems with Alcohol Use. Retrieved from

[12] Lesser, B. (2021, May 14). PTSD and Alcohol: How They Affect You. Retrieved from

[13] Hirth, J. M., Rahman, M., & Berenson, A. B. (2011). The Association of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder with Fast Food and Soda Consumption and Unhealthy Weight Loss Behaviors Among Young Women. Journal of Women’s Health, 20(8), 1141–1149.

In a time of a global health crisis, mental health issues have drastically increased due to the lack of physical, emotional, and spiritual connection. In line with this, the Philippine Association of Nutrition Alpha Chapter presents you #MentalHealthMatters #MentalHealthMondays.

This project aims to promote mental health information in the aspect of nutrition. 

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