Your Diet can Influence your Mental Health

Summary: In recent years, a field called nutritional psychiatry has been emerging fast as researchers realize that those living with mental health disorders may benefit from dietary changes. Moreover, mental health issues are challenging to treat with medications, often requiring prolonged treatment, thus causing multiple adverse effects. Dietary measures can help overcome stress, anxiety, depression, and more.

It has been rightly said that you become what you eat. Your diet can influence mental health in multiple ways. It can directly affection the production of neurotransmitters, cause mood changes, influence circadian rhythm, affect gut microflora, and more.

Since diet can influence mental well-being and mood, it also means that one can use food to manage mental health disorders. Thus, anyone living with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues must make dietary changes.

The importance of diet in mental health cannot be neglected, considering that most mental health issues tend to be chronic and even lifelong.

In recent years, nutritional therapy in psychiatry has gained significant importance as researchers have discovered a few things. Science has discovered that the gut produces 90% of serotonin, one of the most vital neurotransmitters affecting mood and mental health. Similarly, science has realized the role of gut bacteria or microbiota in mental well-being. The gut is so crucial for mental health that researchers are now calling it the second brain. They understand that the “gut-brain” axis can influence various brain functions.

Diet and depression

There are numerous studies showing that diet can increase the risk of depression. Those living with the metabolic disorder are also more likely to develop depression. Thus, studies also confirm that certain dietary choices may be suitable for managing depression. Dietary measures are especially useful in mild to moderate depression.

One of the good ways to manage depression is to switch to the Mediterranean diet. Studies show that consuming whole grains, fresh vegetables, and legumes may help. At the same time, reducing the intake of processed foods is also good for mental health.

One of the landmark trials HELFIMED has shown that the Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, nuts, whole grains, lean meat, and dairy product can help significantly reduce depression, especially when combined with fish oil or omega-3 supplements.

Diet for stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety are pretty common mental health issues. Compared to depression, they might be less severe, but they have a higher prevalence.
Studies show that specific food choices may increase the risk of stress and anxiety. Thus, to reduce these mental health issues, experts recommend reducing the intake of alcohol, caffeine, and added sugars.

Those living with anxiety should especially try to lower their sugar intake. Studies show that sugar can be quite addictive and can even cause withdrawal syndrome. Further studies show that consuming excessive saturated fats may also cause mental health issues.

Foods that are especially good for improving mental health are foods that reduce inflammation, like dietary fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, unsaturated fats, and probiotics-rich fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and more.

Other things to consider

Prevention is better than treatment. Thus, researchers say that for a healthy life, one should focus on increasing the intake of certain nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-complex, iron, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin C. Fruits, nuts, seeds, and seafood can be really good to get your daily supply of these vital nutrients.

Secondly, one should consume foods rich in pro and prebiotics like yogurt, buttermilk, garlic, onions, asparagus, barley, oats, and so on.

Further, it is good to consume antioxidant-rich berries. Berries are often associated with romantic moods, and it now appears they really help. In addition, berries are the richest source of specific vitamins like vitamin C and antioxidants.

Finally, remember that disruption in circadian rhythm is one of the reasons for the higher prevalence of mental health issues. Hence, eat meals at regular intervals and at a fixed time of the day to avoid any disruption in the circadian rhythm. Apart from sleep, also regularize your sleep time.

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Medical Disclaimer: Keep in mind that the content provided is not direct medical advice for patient care, but is provided for thoughtful discussion.

Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP

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