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Mental Health and Nutrition

Although mental health is something that we are all touched by, many choose to be silent about the impact of mental health on our daily lives.   While there has been more awareness with famous athletes being open about their struggles; many people often choose to struggle on their own.  This week we celebrated World Mental Health Day to bring more awareness to the issue. COVID19 has also brought more awareness, because the struggle became more open.  It is less of a taboo to say you are struggling with depression or anxiety.   

Mental health problems are the results of a combination of age, genetic and environmental factors.  We do not have the ability to change our age or genetics.  We have some control over environmental factors.  We can reduce some of the environmental effects by being more mindful of the products we consume.  For example, we can use natural or organic cleaning products.  We can also choose natural or organic personal hygiene products.  We can be proactive when it comes to the food we eat.

Nutrition is an important factor that is often overlooked when it comes to mental health. There is a growing field of research linking food and the development, treatment, and prevention of mental health disorders.  The link between diet and mental health suggests we need to shift our thinking.  We need to be choosy about what we eat.  We need to think about how food makes us think, feel, and behave.

Many of us at some points have experienced the effects of food on our mood.  Think about it.   When we are depressed, we find foods that change our mood.  Have you ever had a breakup and reached for comfort foods?  Because you felt sad and the food made you feel better.  How about when you eat something that brought a fond (or sad) childhood memory.

Good health means taking a holistic approach.  When we have cancer or diabetes or hypothyroidism, we eat foods that promote our physical health.  When we feed our bodies, we have to think deeper about the impact of food not only on our physical health but our mental and spiritual health as well.

Lately we have been hearing about the Gut Brain connection.  Our gastrointestinal (GI) tract has even been called our second brain.  That is no accident when we consider that the GI tract is home to billions of bacteria that influence the production of neurotransmitters.  Yes, the same neurotransmitters that affect our mood.  These neurotransmitters send chemical messages from the gut to the brain all day long.  

Now consider the effects of the food we eat on the production of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine levels. These neurotransmitters play a major role in mood regulation.  For example, low norepinephrine causes fatigue and brain fog. Norepinephrine is link to depression Serotonin is also known as the happy hormone.  Up 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut, the rest is produced in the brain.  Serotonin is responsible for our quality of sleep; serotonin is converted into melatonin in the brain.   Optimal serotonin levels help to promote a deep peaceful sleep so awake recharged.  Low serotonin means low mood and depression.  Dopamine is produced in many areas of the brain.  It is responsible for things like movement, goal setting, motivation, and personality.  Low dopamine levels cause food cravings, procrastination, mood swings, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.  Dopamine is also associated with Parkinson’s disease.  Lifestyle changes can help to promote optimal levels of dopamine including meditating, deep breathing, and nutrition. 

We all know that sugar is bad for us.  It causes inflammation in the body.  It feeds cancer cells.  It spikes our blood sugar levels.  Parents are often concerned about their kids having a sugar high.  But have you ever thought about the impact of food on the gut brain connection?  Health foods or nutrient dense foods help with the production of good bacteria that promotes the production of neurotransmitters.  Foods that lack nutrients hinder the production of neurotransmitters. Sugar is one of those foods.  Sugar may initially spike dopamine levels, so you feel good but then there is a drop in dopamine you feel down for hours.  Healthy foods maintain dopamine levels and help to keep our mood stable.

There are simple changes that you can make in your diet to promote your mental health.  One of the best things to do for your mental health is to eat whole foods.  These foods are minimally processed and have only a few ingredients.  Eat plant-based foods, they contain fiber that absorb sugar.  Think whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  Foods that promote dopamine levels include selenium, blueberry extract, beta-phenylethylamine (meats, eggs, cheese, chocolate, and oats).  Foods that promote serotonin levels include tryptophane rich foods (shrimp, turkey, spinach).  You can also take supplements like P5P (active ingredient in vitamin B6), methyl B12, folic acid, magnesium, and niacinamide.  To promote norepinephrine, eat whole foods like fruits vegetables, eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil, etc.) herbs and spices.  

We are what we eat.  Diet has a significant effect on mental and physical health.  So eat real foods.  Eat to nourish your brain.

Written by Chemenda Sawyer

Cape Coral Office:
1404 Del Prado Blvd, Unit 135
Cape Coral, FLORIDA 33990

Sarasota Offices:
1487 2nd Street Suite C-4
Sarasota, FL 34236
(239) 565-6921

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