Food is essential for survival, growth, and maintenance. It provides nourishment to our body and helps in bodily functions. But are food and mental health really related?
They say “You are what you eat”, and a lot of recent studies have shown that diet and mental health are more closely linked than we realize.
“A very large body of evidence now exists that means the diet is as important to psychological state because it is to physical health,” says Felice Jacka, president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. “A healthy diet is protective and an unhealthy diet may be a risk factor for depression and anxiety.”
Nutritional psychiatry is developing into a true opportunity for clinical intervention for patients that suffer from depression and anxiety.
Clinical practice has shown that psychiatric patients experience increased morbidity and mortality associated with a range of medical illnesses. In addition, lifestyle, psychiatric medications, and inadequate health care all contribute to the poor physical health of individuals with mental disease. Thus, nutritional interventions may be helpful to patients who want to combat the adverse effects of medications.
Now researchers are even thinking that food allergies may play a role in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia
Food and Mental Health
Most of the recent studies have revolved around the connection between a healthy diet and mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Although evidence connecting diet and psychological state hasn’t been found yet, currently there are trials ongoing to get it.
Meanwhile, we do know that a healthy diet affects brain health in the following way:
Boosting brain development.
If your brain is bereft of good-quality nutrition, or if free radicals or damaging inflammatory cells are circulating within the brain’s cavity, further contributing to brain tissue injury, consequences are to be expected. What’s interesting is that for several years, the medical field didn’t fully acknowledge the connection between mood and food.
- Changing brain proteins and enzymes to extend neural transmitters, which are the connections between brain cells.
- Increasing good gut bacteria: This promotes a healthy gut biome, which decreases inflammation. Inflammation is known to affect both cognition and mood.
- Raising serotonin levels through various food enzymes, which improves mood. Serotonin may be a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your alimentary canal, and your alimentary canal is lined with 100 million nerve cells or neurons, it is sensible that the inner workings of your gastrointestinal system don’t just assist you digest food, but also guide your emotions.
What’s more, the function of these neurons — and the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin — is highly influenced by the billions of “good” bacteria that make up your intestinal microbiome. These bacteria play an essential role in your health. They protect the liner of your intestines and ensure they supply a robust barrier against toxins and “bad” bacteria; they limit inflammation; they improve how well you absorb nutrients from your food; and that they activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and therefore the brain.
Additionally, a high sugar, high fat diet decreases the healthy bacteria in the gut. Some study results have shown that a diet that is high in sugar may worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia.
And, a 2017 study of the sugar intake of 23,000 people by Knuppel, et al., “confirms an adverse effect of sugar intake from sweet food/beverage on long-term psychological health and suggests that lower intake of sugar could also be related to better psychological health.”
Foods For Brain Health
It sounds logical that the foods that are best for the body would also be the ones that promote brain health. This is supported by the results from a large European study that showed that nutrient-dense foods like the ones found on the Mediterranean diet may actually help prevent depression.
The nutrients that may help brain health include:
- Zinc – low levels of zinc can cause depression.
- Omega 3s – may improve mood and do help improve memory and thinking.
- B12 – A report by Ramsey and Muskin that was published in Current Psychiatry in 2013, noted that “low B12 levels and elevated homocysteine increase the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease and are linked to a 5-fold increase within the rate of brain atrophy.”
- Vitamin C – The report by Ramsey and Muskin also noted that “Vitamin C intake is significantly lower in older adults (age ≥60) with depression.”
- Iron – iron-deficiency anemia plays a part in depression.
- Eating nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, leafy greens, colorful vegetables, beans and legumes, seafood, and fruits will boost the body’s overall health – including brain health.
- Both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which eliminates sugar, were found to significantly improve symptoms in the patients who took part in one study on diet and mental health.
Adding fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, pickles, or kombucha, to your diet can improve gut health and increase serotonin levels.
We should start paying attention to how eating different foods makes us feel — not just in the moment, but the next day.
Try eating a ‘clean’ diet for 2 to 3 weeks — meaning eliminating all processed foods and sugar. See how it makes you feel. Then slowly introduce foods back into your diet, one by one, and see how that affects your mood. Because in the end, food and mental health are intimately connected.
Also, you can check our article on the need of automation in the industry by clicking HERE.