How nutrition affects our Mental Health
Although no one has ever seen the mind, we can consider the brain as the platform for the mind and thus a platform for out mental wellbeing.
The brain is made up in large part of essential fatty acids, water and other nutrients. We know that food affects how we feel, think and behave. You felt it , I felt it, everyone knows it. But how many of us, especially busy professionals take the time to invest in this knowledge which actually has the potential to make their businesses a success?
Most of your brain is derived directly from food. The last fifty years have witnessed remarkable alterations to what we eat, how we process and refined it, food additives, use of pesticides and the alteration of animal fats through intensive farming. And here we are thinking we actually eat healthy fats.
Studies estimate that the average person in the UK and other industrialised countries will eat more than 4 kilogrammes of additives every year!!! So the importance of reducing processed food as much as possible is critical. At least the obvious ones.
Different methods of farming have also introduced higher levels and different types of fat into our diet. Nowadays chickens grow twice as fast as 30 years ago and this changes the quality of the meat. A chicken carcass used to be 2% fat, it is now 22%. according to Dr Deborah Cornah, Consultant to the Mental Health Foundation
The chicken’s changed diets have reduced omega-3 fatty acids and increased omega-6 fatty acids in the meat.
Unequal intakes of omega-3 (fish and oils) and omega-6 fats (cereals, eggs, poultry) have been implicated in a number of mental health problems, including depression, concentration and memory problems. Scientists have observed that western diets contain far too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3.
Smoking, drinking alcohol, tea, coffee or eating chocolate, improves one’s mood, we all know this, at least temporarily. What we don’t know, or rather ignore, is that some foods can have a lasting influence on mood and mental wellbeing because of the impact they have on the structure and function of the brain.
Food and Depression
Evidence shows that the presentation of depression in the UK population has increased dramatically over recent decades, with more cases being reported in children, adolescents and young adults. And the only way we address it is through pills, to suppress the symptoms but not addressing the cause.
There seems to be a correlation between low intakes of fish by a country and high levels of depression amongst its citizens, as well as the reverse. This correlation has been shown for major depression, post-natal depression, seasonal affective disorder and bipolar affective disorder.
Complex carbohydrates as well as certain food components such as folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and tryptophan are thought to decrease the symptoms of depression. Those with low intakes of folate, or folic acid, have been found to be significantly more likely to be diagnosed with depression than those with higher intakes.
Similar conclusions have been drawn from studies looking at the association of depression with low levels of zinc and vitamins B1, B2 and C.
In other studies standard treatments have been supplemented with these micronutrients resulting in significant relief of symptoms in people with depression and bi-polar affective disorder, in some cases by 50%.
In one epidemiological study it was found that levels of depression were rising at the same time that traditional diets were being abandoned for more processed foods.
Food and Schizophrenia
I don’t know much about Schizophrenia but according to the research out there, people with schizophrenia have lower levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (oils made from seeds, corn, nuts, vegetables) in their bodies than those with no experience of illness.
There has also been evidence which suggests that antioxidant enzymes (found in orange
and red peppers, spinach and tomatoes.) are lower in the brains of people with schizophrenia.
Food and Attention Hyperactivity Disorder
If my parents were to ever take me to the doctor I would have been diagnosed with ADHD for sure. But they never did, they raised and nurtured and helped me develop in a traditional and healthy way as best they could. Most importantly they gave me the chance to use up all my energy through various sports. I didn’t spend too much time indoors eating and sleeping.
However, for more serious cases of ADHD, there have been great improvements when dietary changes are introduced to children with ADHD. Two food groups have been identified, fatty acids and minerals.
It seems that children diagnosed with ADHD commonly share characteristics of Essential fatty acid (Cereal, pasta, bread, vegetables) deficiency. A deficiency in zinc (red meat, beans and poultry) was also discovered among children with ADHD.
There is even more research out there linking diet with mental health is growing at a rapid pace. The quality of the food we eat has a great impact on feelings of mood and general wellbeing, but the evidence demonstrates its contribution to the development, prevention and management of specific mental health problems like the ones described above.
What can we do?
Balanced mood and feelings of well being can be maintained by ensuring that our diet provides adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water in balanced amounts.
I encourage you to do your research so you make informed decisions rather than believe everything you are told. Read shorts articles on macronutrients and micronutrients and decide for yourself whether a type of food is good or not.
Educating our children is our number one priority. However instead of teaching by example we say something it not healthy and we still eat it. Kids copy adults’ behaviours and no matter how many times we tell them it’s not good they will still copy what we do. Lead by example, walk the talk.
If you’d like to learn more please download my free eBook “15 Healthy Habits For The Body”