Most people have at one time or another experienced that sudden urge to eat “comfort foods” when feeling depressed, anxious or lonely. What better way to get some immediate relief by indulging in a bowl of macaroni and cheese, or perhaps something sweet like a piece of triple layer chocolate cake. Everyone knows consuming food is a temporary and unhealthy way to deal with mental health disorders, however not many people understand what a large role diet and nutrition plays in a person’s overall mental health.
A recent report aggregated 21 studies from 10 countries around the world regarding the relationship between diet and mental health. The collective consensus of all the studies was that a diet that is high in fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low in animal foods is directly associated with a lower or decreased risk of depression. Conversely, a diet that is high in red meat, processed meat, refined grains, high-fat dairy products and low in fruits and vegetables results in an increased risk of depression.
A 2019 study of adults age 50 and older showed a connection between diets high in saturated fats and added sugars and incidents of anxiety.
And yet another report that aggregated the results of 56 studies of the impact diet and nutrition have on the mental well-being of adolescents. The report, which focused on the relationship between healthy eating habits and positive mental health throughout life. The report indicated that different foods are likely connected to the maintenance and severity of depressive symptoms and disorders. These food compounds can modulate depression associated biomarkers. The report showed that foods considered “healthy” by traditional standards, such as olive oil, fish, nuts, fruits and vegetables, are inversely associated with the risk of depression and, furthermore, could possibly contribute toward the treatment of mental health disorders. Foods considered “unhealthy” by traditional standards, such as sugar sodas, fried foods and processed meats, were shown to be associated with an increase in incidence of depression.
In an effort to draw a more direct parallel between diet and mental health, a group of researchers assembled 67 individuals who were experiencing either moderate or severe depression. Called The SMILES Trial, during the course of 12 weeks the individuals were divided into two groups; one group received dietary support and counseling and the other received social, or mental health, support. After 12 weeks, those people who were in the dietary support group showed much greater improvement in their mental well-being than those in the social support group. The study concluded that a healthy diet can be an effective treatment for the management of mental health disorders.
While all these studies reaffirm there is a very direct relationship between diet and mental health, what is the scientific reasons that drive this connection? An article in the Harvard Health Blog explains that it all starts with serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which is like a chemical messenger that carries signals between nerve cells and regulates everything from sleep and moods to pain and muscle movement. Approximately 95% of serotonin is produced in a person’s gastrointestinal tract, which has somewhere around one hundred million nerve cells, and this not only helps with digestion but can also impact emotions. Added to which, the production of serotonin is influenced by intestinal bacteria.
What does this mean for you? It means learning to eat right will not only help your physical health but your mental wellness as well. Here are some dietary tips that will help you stay healthy, both physically and mentally:
- Reduce your consumption of processed foods as much as possible. Processed foods are foods that have had their nutritional composition changed. Oftentimes high amounts of sugar, sodium and fat will be added to foods to make them taste better.
- Moderate your sugar intake and eliminate foods that have excessive sugars (candy, soda, etc.). There are also many foods which contain more sugar than you might realize, such as ketchup, fruit juice, certain granola mixes, spaghetti sauce and canned fruits. Read the labels to see the exact amount of sugar you are consuming.
- Increase the amount of vegetables and whole grains in your diet. Spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale are among the healthiest vegetables. Oats are hands-down the best whole grains; they are extremely rich in antioxidants, fiber, minerals and vitamins. Barley, brown rice and buckwheat are also very healthy.
- Eat good carbs instead of bad carbs. Good carbs are generally unprocessed and contain a lot of fiber. Bad carbs, or refined carbs, are usually processed and have lost most of their fiber value.
- Make sure to eat a solid diet of healthy proteins. Unlike carbohydrates, proteins “stick” with you and create energy for the body to function properly. Proteins also help maintain a healthy brain that can stay alert and process information.
- Drink lots of water. A healthy body is composed of roughly 60% water, so it is important to maintain this level and keep your fluids balanced. Almost all bodily functions rely on bodily fluids for proper functioning, so keep yourself regularly hydrated.
If you are suffering from a mental disorder that is making your life unmanageable, ketamine infusion therapy may be a good option when used in coordination with a healthy diet and treatment plan that includes consulting with a mental health professional. Contact Ketamine Clinics Los Angeles at 310-363-7358 to find out if ketamine infusion therapy may be right for you.