What if I told you that your poor nutrition may be responsible for your mental health issues? Various studies show the link between the two.
Diets have always been discussed and debated as a way to improve health with no clear outcomes. Losing weight, looking and feeling better, having more energy and sleeping better are all objectives when starting a diet. But what about the link between poor nutrition and brain health?
Can the foods we eat have an effect on our state of mind? Mental challenges and illnesses seem to be cropping up in the news almost daily.
One famous individual admits to having suffered from a stress disorder, another fought addiction to depression medication. Even some of the horrible crimes that are committed address the fact that the perpetrator was being treated for some type of mental illness.
What is causing these conditions?
More types of depression, anxiety, and diseases of the mind are being discovered at an alarming rate and the medical community is trying to combat them with drugs and chemicals.
Studies are now showing that many of these conditions appear to be linked to poor nutrition. Lack of certain vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients can lead to conditions affecting the mind.
This then can cause overmedicating, dependence on drugs and alcohol, sleeping excessively, and a list of other unfavorable results leading to an even faster downward spiral.
Studies of poor nutrition and mental health
The evidence is suggesting that even before we are born, there may be a link between poor nutrition and mental health. A study of 23,000 mothers and their children conducted in 2013 showed that consuming sugars and processed foods in the pregnancy stage can affect the mental health and behavior of the child at age five.
Gut bacteria are another aspect being looked at for the causes of mood swings, anxiety, and emotional outbursts. Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietician, offers a basic look at the research done on the digestive system and its communication with our brain in a digital series called #OWNSHOW.
Sugar has been identified as detrimental to brain activity in a study done in 2012, which found the evidence that sugar affects memory and the ability to learn.
Past Studies Unreliable
Dr. Gene Bowman of the Oregon Health and Science University states that getting the correct information is causing difficulty in studies which try to clarify what nutrients do and how they affect the brain.
He claims that using dietary surveys isn’t reliable because people don’t remember what they’ve eaten, especially in cases of those with advanced age or at risk of dementia. Dr. Bowman instead uses blood samples from the participants, which clearly show the nutrients in the bloodstream.
Current Findings Released
Dr. Bowman has attracted attention with two of his findings. One showed that those with high plasma levels of B, D, E and C vitamins showed a total brain volume and better cognitive functioning. Another showed that marine Omega-3 fatty acids in the bloodstream gave people better executive functioning.
Most recently, his study called “Nutrient Biomarker Patterns, Cognitive Function, and MRI Measures of Brain Aging” and published in Neurology showed dramatic patterns of what foods people eat and how the brain works.
Another new study showed that seniors with healthy diets tested better for mental acuity than those of the same age who had poor nutrition and ate junk food.
Chemicals in the Brain Regulate Mood
Called neurotransmitters, these potent chemicals are affected by certain foods and contribute to their manufacture. Sleep patterns, better moods, higher pain tolerance and even energy levels are all affected by these four neurotransmitters.
- Serotonin – boosted by eating complex carbohydrates.
- Dopamine and norepinephrine – enter the bloodstream by eating proteins.
- Acetylcholine – manufactured from choline, a B vitamin, influences memory and learning.
The most recent finding in research about depression and food shows that it’s a nutrient imbalance that might be causing some forms of depression. The most notable lack in diets of people with depression was fish fats.
Oily fish contains Omega-3 fatty acids, eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both highly concentrated in the brain tissue and found to play a significant role in nerve function and mood regulation.
Other foods that combat depression includes:
- Low-fat dairy
- Whole grains
- Green tea
Fermented Foods to Combat Low Mental Moods
It’s not certain how the connection between food and mood works, but there is evidence that eating fermented foods enhances mental focus and clarity.
Some of these foods are laden with good bacteria for the gut. The examples are:
- Soy Sauce
Check the labels to be sure they are filled with live and active cultures. Basically, they have been naturally fermented and add to the helpful bacteria in the gut.
Don’t Underestimate Poor Nutrition
It is clear that certain foods, according to recent research, contribute to poor mental health, and other foods enhance it.
Serotonin, one of the mood regulators in the body, is made by gut bacteria and so if the gut is unhealthy, so is the brain. Eating a healthy diet doesn’t point to curing mental illnesses, but it seems to aid in controlling mood swings and depression.
It does take time to incorporate a healthier diet, but the results are conclusive. You don’t have to give up your favorite things either. Dark chocolate is one of the well-known mood enhancers and one study shows that having ice cream for breakfast can make you smarter.
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