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The Gut: Can the Food You Eat Affect Your Mental Health?

No matter who you are, you eat food. Every human needs to eat food to survive. But, what we eat varies greatly between individuals. 

While we often think of the foods we eat as having implications on our physical health, it is not often that we consider the mental health ramifications of consuming certain foods. 

The study of food choices on mental health has developed into a new subspecialty of psychiatry, called nutrition psychiatry

Various mental health disorders - anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, depression, etc. - have become much more commonplace in society. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, states that around 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with some kind of mental health disorder at one point in their lives. 

In fact, mental illness is the third most common cause for hospital admission in the United States among adults aged 18 to 44. 

The high rate of mental disorder diagnoses, when considered in conjunction with poor diet in the United States, caused scientists to postulate that there is some sort of connection between diet and mental health. 

Exploring the Relationship Between Food and Mental Health

Over the past ten years, there has been much research conducted regarding the link between food choice and mental wellbeing. 

Studies have shown that the risk for depression in teens increases dramatically when a low quality diet is consumed compared to a high quality, whole food diet. 

Additionally, the risk of acquiring ADD (a term used to describe what is now known officially as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD) doubles for teens when consuming a low quality diet. 

Why does diet matter so much?

Most contemporary research studies have focused on the interrelatedness of diet and mood disorders (depression, anxiety, etc.). 

To this day, there has not been any direct evidence linking any particular diet with mental health. 

But, scientists are working hard to find this link. Even without a direct, proven link, it’s clear that a balanced diet can be beneficial for both mental and physical health overall.

As of now, scientists and physicians are aware that consuming a healthy diet positively impacts the brain in the following ways:

  • Aids in brain development so that you may cognitively function in a normal manner. 
  • Increases production of neurotransmitters by altering brain proteins/enzymes. Neurotransmitters are chemical signals that make connections between nerve cells.
  • Promotes healthy gut bacteria. This decreases inflammation, which can affect mood and cognition. 
  • Elevates serotonin, which contributes to a good mood. 

While diets consisting of rich and diverse nutrients can change brain proteins that lead to improvements in brain cell connectivity, diets consisting of large amounts of saturated fat and sugars cause the opposite effect. 

These poor diets can be destructive for brain proteins and lead to poor cognitive functioning. Also, high sugar and high fat diets tend to destroy healthy gut bacteria, which can decrease the body’s ability to prevent severe inflammation. 

How to Improve Your Diet    

If you would like to eat healthily to promote good brain health, and mental health by extension, there are certain foods you might want include in your diet. 

The following nutrients can be added into your diet whenever possible:

  • Omega 3s. These can improve mood, improve memory, and improve cognition.
  • Zinc. Too little zinc has been linked to depression.
  • Vitamin B12. Low B12 levels increase risk for cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and brain atrophy.
  • Iron. Anemia (too few healthy red blood cells) caused by iron deficiency contributes to depression.
  • Vitamin C. Low Vitamin C intake in older adults is associated with depression.
  • Fulvic Humic Concentrate. Re mineralises the body, energises and improves leaky gut.

Takeaway: Diet and Mental Health are Linked

Choosing to eat foods - such as whole grains, vegetables with colour, beans, fruit, and fish - that are dense in nutrients will promote physical and mental health by giving your body the fuel it needs to function at its best.

Eating well helps your brain operate at its best, in particular, and has the potential to improve your mood, energy levels, patience, and willingness to participate in activities.

All of these factors combined with the confidence that comes with taking good care of yourself can help you live as happy and as full of a life as possible.

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