What we eat not only impacts our physical health, but nutrition is involved in the state of our mental well-being too. It has now been established that nutrition can play a key role in the onset, as well as severity and duration, of some mental health disorders. Therefore, what we choose to eat is instrumental to our body and mind.
Nutritional neuroscience is now shedding light on the fact that nutritional factors are intertwined with human cognition, behaviour, and emotions. The typical dietary intake of populations in many western countries indicates that individuals are often deficient in many nutrients. It is a notable that individuals suffering from mental disorders tend to have severe deficiency in nutrients as well. The most common nutritional deficiencies seen are omega–3 fatty acids, B vitamins (particularly folate and B12), minerals (choline, iron, zinc, magnesium), S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe), vitamin D and specific amino acids that are precursors to neurotransmitters.
Below are some of the key areas where nutrition can impact or enhance mental well-being
Evidence suggests a link between low levels of serotonin and mental well-being. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. About 95% of serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract (GI). Neurons in the GI tract are highly influenced by “good” bacteria that make up the intestinal microbiome and play an essential role in health. So what happens in the GI tract effects overall health, not just digestion.
A number of studies now show improved mental well-being with probiotic supplementation. Taking a probiotic supplement made up of multiple strains of bacteria can potentially have increased effectiveness on mental well-being. The human body houses billions or bacterial cells. Keeping a healthy balance of those that are beneficial to health is essential.
High Sugar Diets
Diets high in refined sugars are typically harmful to the brain. High sugars diets impact the body’s ability to regulate insulin and also promotes inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between high sugar diet, impaired brain function and a deterioration of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression. If the brain is deprived of good-quality nutrition, or if free radicals or damaging inflammatory cells are circulating within the brain’s enclosed space, consequences are to be expected.
Western Diet vs Traditional Diet
Further studies have compared “traditional” diets, like the Mediterranean diet and the Japanese diet, to a typical “Western” diet. These studies have shown the risk of depression is 25% to 35% lower in those who eat a traditional diet. Scientists account for this due to traditional diets being high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, fish and seafood, and only containing modest amounts of lean meats and dairy.
Imbalances and disease can also occur when the body is dealing with too many acid-forming foods and excess stress. Chronic stress also affects the absorption of nutrients which alters digestion, absorption and metabolism of nutrients, pre-disposing the body to malnutrition.
Many studies indicate that daily supplements of vital nutrients can be effective in assisting mental well-being. Supplements containing amino acids have also been found to be beneficial, as specific ones are converted to neurotransmitters, which in turn can enhance mental well-being.
Avoiding alcohol, cigarette smoking and other toxic substances can also improve overall health and gut bacteria. By making wise choices, eating well and supplementing the diet with quality foods, drinks and nutrients, it is possible to improve overall health and mental well-being.
I personally like to supplement my diet, purely to ensure I am not lacking any specific nutrients, so my mind and body can be as healthy as possible. You can read more about the products I use here.