After this past week (month! year!) you are probably feeling emotionally and physically drained. Your nervous system could probably use a little more grounding and a little more nurturing. I know mine sure could!
How I can best help is to share with you what I know best, and that is how food and lifestyle can be used to support and heal. I believe the more you understand about good nutrition and the more that you practice positive lifestyle habits, the stronger your mental health and immune system will be.
The impact that food has on mood and other aspects of mental illness is being researched more and more. These findings may lead to greater acceptance of the therapeutic value of dietary intervention among health practitioners and health care providers addressing depression and other psychological disorders. Nutritional neuroscience is an emerging discipline shedding light on the fact that nutritional factors are intertwined with human cognition, behavior, and emotions and nutritional psychiatry is developing into a real opportunity for clinical intervention for patients who suffer from depression and anxiety.
Elucidating the metabolic and cellular mechanisms and pathways through which nutrition can promote the resistance of neurons to improve mental fitness will help to determine how best to modulate diet composition in order to promote mental health throughout life.
It is my hope that an improved understanding of how nutrition affects mental health and cognition will guide the development of new nutritional interventions and evidence-based advice that will promote and maintain brain fitness throughout life. The promotion of dietary habits that lead to better mental health, and the identification and validation of critical individual nutritional components, will improve sustainability in our healthcare systems and reduce the economic costs associated with poor mental health and cognitive decline.
Your brain requires a constant supply of fuel. That “fuel” comes from the foods you eat — and what’s in that fuel makes all the difference. Put simply, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.
Anatomically speaking, the vagus nerve connects the gut and brain. This gut-brain axis provides us a greater understanding of the connection between diet and disease and is also relevant in psychiatric disease.
Neurotransmitters and other chemicals produced in your gut also affect your brain. Supporting your gut health helps you increase your levels of serotonin (yep, the “happy” neurotransmitter) and GABA (a neurotransmitter linked to feelings of relaxation). The production of neurotransmitters like serotonin — is highly influenced by the billions of “good” bacteria that make up your intestinal microbiome. These bacteria play an essential role in your health. They improve how well you absorb nutrients from your food and they activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and the brain.
A high-quality diet may, therefore, help to regulate the gut microbiota and reduce stress and inflammation in the brain and subsequently maintain proper cognitive function throughout life
Peer-reviewed evidence has shown magnesium, omega-3’s, vitamins B, and D3 can help relieve anxiety and depression. While it’s always best to test and not guess (a blood lab test can let you know your levels) eating nutrient-packed food is appropriate for everyone. I always advise striving to get your nutrients from real food, and then supplement as a bonus.
Nutrients to focus on:
Magnesium: One of the essential minerals for optimal health, yet most people are lacking. It also helps with sleep. Best food sources for magnesium are nuts, avocados, seeds, legumes, and chocolate. You can also increase your magnesium levels by taking Epsom salt baths.
B12: Many anxiety and depressive disorders are related to low B12 levels. Adding a supplement along with improving digestive health and eating more protein from animal sources should bring B12 levels up quickly. The more careful paring of plant foods can be put together for vegans.
Omega-3’s: EFA’s are another nutrient that is critical for the development and function of the central nervous system. A lack is associated with low mood, cognitive decline, and poor comprehension. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are critical for neurotransmitter function, which is a crucial component for emotional and physiological brain balance. Oily fish is your best bet, with flax and chia seed being a decent source for vegetarians.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D can ward off seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which can manifest depression, especially in people who don’t get regular sunlight. Wild-caught salmon, shrimp, egg yolks, cod liver oil, and mushrooms are all good food sources. Covid-19 research has magnified how much Vitamin D is essential for immunity.
Nutritional Suggestions for your gut/brain health
Processed foods and added sugars can decrease the number of good bacteria in your gut. This imbalance can cause increased sugar cravings, which can damage your gut still further. Sugar and alcohol can be physically and emotionally addictive.
Eat more fiber: Fiber feeds the microbiome, and low-fiber diets reduce microbial diversity.
Eat foods rich in polyphenols: Polyphenols are plant compounds found in red wine, green tea, dark chocolate, olive oil, and whole grains. They stimulate healthy bacterial growth, plus they are found in delicious foods.
Probiotics Try to eat a few forkfuls of fermented food a day. Eat some naturally fermented and pickled foods, like sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, and kimchi.
Supplementation with bifidobacteria can alleviate the carbohydrate cravings cycle often associated with poor digestive health and low serotonin. Take a probiotic supplement. Look for refrigerated brands that have at least 3-5 billion CFU’s and contain the Bifidobacterium strain.
Eat prebiotics (asparagus, jicama, unripe bananas, and artichokes are good food sources) as they are rich in fermentable sugars that directly feed gut bacteria.
Drink At Least 8 Glasses of Plain Water Daily: A research study published in the World Journal of Psychiatry September 2018 that found drinking plain water is associated with a decreased risk of depression and anxiety in adults. Hydration is key to resolving many health problems and such a simple solution.
Get Sufficient Sleep: After a poor night’s sleep, it’s harder to think clearly, make decisions, or keep your cool when the emails started piling up. This is because, when we lack sufficient sleep, our brain doesn’t get its nightly emotional “reset.” Dr. Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science and author of Why We Sleep, and his research team “showed well over a 60% amplification in emotional reactivity in participants who were sleep-deprived.”1 In other words, sleep-deprived individuals may experience negative moods more intensely and have a harder time regulating their emotions.
Exercise might be one of, if not THE, single best interventions to improve longevity and mental health. As a Questie you know this. Get after it!
Start paying attention to how foods affect your mood— not just in the moment, but the next day.
I simply cannot believe how much better I feel mentally and emotionally when I eat well and how much worse I feel when I eat crap for too long. It’s amazing. It doesn’t take a long time to rebound, it’s amazing what a 24 turnaround can do.
Here’s to your wellbeing, in all ways! ~ Christina