The Link between Mental Health & Nutrition
Over the last few months recent studies have been coming out regarding the link between mental health and nutrition. We all know the age old saying “You are what you eat” but few of us are ever taught what that means for our brain, and therefore our mental health.
When I first entered into the world of holistic food in 2014 I simply knew that I felt better when I ate a predominantly plant-based diet, I had no idea how deeply that concept would change my life. I am not a doctor or a scientist by any means but it can be amazing when you learn when you have a deep desire to do so. With that, I wanted to share the information I’ve been reading regarding the connection between mental health and the food we eat because it is something that impacts every single one of us.
“According to the World Health Organization anxiety and depression are among the most common mental health conditions and depression could be the top health concerns in the world by 2030.”
When I read that I was stunned, but when I began thinking about it unfortunately it made sense when we look at the vast majority of our food systems and accessibility around the world. The shift to fast, non-perishable, processed foods does not feed our bodies, or our brains, with the right type of nutrients it needs to thrive. Here is why..
Our brain is constantly “on” which means that it requires a constant supply of fuel to function. That fuel is the food we eat. Just like a car, if you supply is with premium fuel it is going to run better versus if you were to supply it with low-grade fuel.
Simply put, what we eat has a direct effect on the structure and function of our brain and our mood. When we consume “low-grade fuel” (aka. processed foods and refined sugars) it reaches our brain and it has very little ability to remove it. It is proven that diets in high refined sugars are harmful to the brain because other then decreasing our body’s ability to regulate insulin it also promotes inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet in refined sugars and mood disorders and depression.
One of the biggest reasons for this correlation is due to the fact that 95% of our serotonin (the neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, appetite, and moods) is produced in our gastrointestinal tract that is lined with neurons. These neurons are highly influenced by the good bacteria that make up our intestinal microbiome and have a direct link to our emotions.
The good bacteria found in our microbiome play one of the most essential roles to our health, something that I believe will be the main focus of health moving forward, because:
They protect the lining of our intestines from toxins and the ‘bad’ bacteria
The limit inflammation in the body
They improve how well our body’s are able to absorb our food
They activate neural pathways that travel directly between our gut and our brain
Our mission at Nook has always been to feed this good bacteria in our microbiomes because of the impact it has on our health. We do that by having a wide range of Rainbow Food (natural colours of every kind that contain unique phytochemicals that each support the bacteria in a unique way), high amounts of fibre (the foundation of food for the bacteria), having a large amount of fermented foods such as tempeh and miso, and a range of prebiotic foods such as onions, cashews, garlic, and leeks.
Last week a study was released by a research team from more than 40 institutions from the UK and Spain that used genetic data from over 50,000 people with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome, something that affects around 1 in 10 people now) and compared them to over 400,000 people without IBS. The results showed that overall that heritability of IBS was quite low and that it was actually in response to environmental factors such as diet, stress and patterns of behaviour.
By linking the connections between our brain and our gut we can have a better understanding of how to support the connection. Here are some of the foods that our brains need in order to thrive:
Vitamin D - mushrooms, eggs, salmon
Magnesium - leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, legumes, almonds
Dietary Fibre - broccoli, beans & pulses, brussel sprouts, banana
Fermented Foods - tempeh, miso, apple cider vinegar
Omega 3's - chia seeds, algae, flax seeds, walnuts, sardines
There needs to be many more studies conducted but it is impossible to deny that a component of mental health comes from the gut.
Below are some links to articles that I have found very beneficial on this topic.