How Nutrition Affects Mental Health
Mental health affects all genders, ages, cultures and backgrounds.
Every year approximately 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 children in the UK experience a mental illness. Over the course of the average person’s lifetime, 1 in 5 people have suicidal thoughts, and 1 in 15 people attempt suicide. These are startling figures highlighting mental health needs to be taken seriously.
COVID-19 has recently brought loss, uncertainty and hardship to the world and this has significantly impacted many people’s mental health. A study, looking at the UK population’s mental health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic (in late July 2020) found that approximately 50% of people felt anxious or worried, and 10% of people had experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings during the previous two weeks.
In a time where so many are suffering with their mental health, it is important not to overlook all factors that contribute to it, including the influence of nutrition.
Can Nutrition Affect Mental Health?
The evidence linking diet with mental health is continually growing, and it is becoming clear that a balanced diet not only keeps your body healthy, it also keeps your mind healthy. A poor diet increases the risk of:
- Neuroprogression (changes in the brain)
- Neurotransmitter imbalance (brain chemistry)
- Oxidative stress (cellular Damage)
- HPA imbalances (our stress response communicated via the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis)
- Mitochondrial disturbances (the batteries or powerhouses in our cells)
All of the above points are major contributors to major depressive disorder and other conditions of mental health.
Recent studies show that nutrient-dense diets, similar to the Mediterranean diet, with high intakes of fruit, vegetables, unsaturated fat, combined with low intakes of animal foods, significantly decreases the risk of depression and may be protective against the development of mental health disorders. However in the UK, dietary patterns are typically high in red and/or processed meats and low in fruits and vegetables.
There is also growing research to show that maintaining good gut health through a balanced and varied diet can benefit our mental health. This is due to the influence of the gut-brain axis that links the gut’s microbiome to brain behaviour and mood.
Mood Friendly Foods
If you are currently on medication for your mental health it is important to consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medication.
There is continually growing evidence that highlights the role that specific key nutrients play in positively impacting mental health. These key nutrients include:
Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress on the body by reducing potentially harmful compounds known as free radicals in your body. This may have a protective role against depression.
Foods high in antioxidants include:
- Fruit and vegetables, such as blueberries and kale.
- 70% dark chocolate (great option to include in small amounts as part of a balanced diet)
Recent research found strong evidence that consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids reduced symptoms of depression and attention-deficit disorder.
Foods high in Omega-3 include:
- Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring
- Seeds & nuts, such as flaxseeds and walnuts.
Serotonin is commonly known as the happy chemical because of the role it plays in your wellbeing and happiness. Serotonin is produced from the essential amino acid tryptophan. Research suggests tryptophan supplementation may link to antidepressant functions in the brain.
Foods high in tryptophan include:
– Poultry including chicken and turkey
– Dairy including cheese and milk
– Seeds such as pumpkin and sesame seeds
Carbohydrates are our main source of energy, therefore not getting enough could lead to fatigue and low mood. It is also thought that carbohydrates play a crucial role in the uptake of tryptophan to the brain, which, as previously mentioned helps to produce serotonin (the happy chemical).
Foods high in complex carbohydrates, for a gradual energy release, include:
- Root vegetables including sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots and turnips
- Whole grains including brown bread, pasta, and rice
Research suggests that insufficient concentrations of B-vitamins are associated with depression. In particular, low folate (vitamin B-9) status has been linked to depressive symptoms.
Foods high in folate include:
- Leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach and spring greens
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts
- Brown rice
Can Certain Foods Worsen Mental Health?
Excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeine can negatively impact mood and worsen anxiety and depression, especially when the effects wear off. Foods high in saturated fats and refined carbohydrates have also been linked to poorer mental health. Therefore limiting consumption of these foods and drinks may be beneficial to mental health, while being mindful not to over restrict the consumption of them in order to avoid the development of disordered eating patterns.
How We Can Help You
It is important that we find what works for you.
We offer functional medicine testing to assess any imbalances in your diet and lifestyle that may be contributing to your poor mental health. In follow up nutrition consultations, our experienced nutrition and dietetic team will work with you to develop a personalised plan that addresses these imbalances in a sustainable way to ensure that your results are maintained into the future.
With our expert guidance, you will begin to see the positive changes to your mood and mental health.
Book a complimentary discovery call with our friendly and experienced team today. We will listen to your story and explain how our services can best support you.
Let us help you feel better.
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