They say you are what you eat – but do you feel what you eat too? This is a major question in nutritional psychology, and it turns out that what you eat affects your brain’s ability to regulate mood and even stay free of depression. Does your diet help or hinder your mental health?
The nutrients, vitamins and minerals that we put in our bodies are not only used to create the physical matter that our bodies are made of. They’re also used to regulate your mood.
Today’s mental health providers understand more than ever about the physical workings of the brain and how they relate to the ways we think and feel. Specifically, we’ve learned a great deal about the connection between diet, neurotransmitters and the brain’s ability to regulate mood and emotion. As you’re about to learn, good dietary decisions make it easier for your brain to keep you feeling happy and healthy.
How Your Nutrition Affects Your Mental Health
We should start by acknowledging that diet influences all aspects of your physical and mental health. Here’s how:
Fluctuations in blood sugar affect mood.
Regardless of whether you suffer from depression, there’s certainly a correlation between mood and changes in blood sugar. Anything high in sugar (such assweets, processed foods or even white bread) will lead to a spike, followed by a drop, in blood sugar. This can leave you feeling tired, irritable or even depressed.
Your physical health supports your emotional health.
While changes in blood sugar are registered minute-by-minute, the overall quality of your diet may take days and weeks to register. If you’re not taking care of your body by providing it with proper nutrition, then you’re going to start feeling worse on the whole. This can contribute to or exacerbate depression.
Your diet can help break depression’s disruptive cycles.
When you suffer from depression, simply summoning the willpower to get out of bed and face the day can be difficult. You’re also likely to start skipping meals or eating at irregular times and intervals. Sticking to a regular schedule of mealtimes adds structure to daily life, which can help pull you out of depression (or at least stop you from descending further into it).
For the above, it’s worth noting that self-perpetuating cycles can develop. For example, depression can lead you to neglect your diet. This, in turn, leads to poorer health – ultimately fuelling further depression. In this sense, eating well serves as a first step towards a life of overall mental wellness.
The Link Between Diet, Serotonin and Depression
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that the brain uses to inhibit pain, regulate sleep and appetite and modulate moods. Needless to say, deficiencies in serotonin can lead to a raft of problems and complications. And many of these problems have strong links to depression.
To illustrate this, consider each of the roles of serotonin:
- Inhibiting pain – Chronic pain and depression are closely related. Pain can lead to depression, and it also results as a symptom of depression.
- Regulating sleep – Sleep deprivation and depression are inextricably linked. Many who have been diagnosed with depression have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep.
- Regulating appetite – Depression regularly presents with a loss or increase in appetite. In either case, the depressed person’s appetite is abnormal and poorly regulated.
- Modulating mood – Anger, sadness, irritability and other mood-related problems are all common symptoms of depression.
There’s a clear connection between serotonin deficiency and mental illness. Even more interesting is the way that serotonin is generated in the body. Around 95 per cent of your body’s serotonin originates in your gastrointestinal tract, which is directly affected by your diet.
Eating to Increase Your Serotonin Levels
One of the ways you can keep your serotonin levels up is to eat foods rich in its precursor, tryptophan, such as:
- Red meat
A well-rounded diet that includes the above contributes to stronger mental health, specifically because of the role it plays in serotonin production. Without the nutrients found in these foods, the brain is unable to maintain a stable emotional state. With that in mind, tryptophan-rich foods are essential to robust mental health.
Omega-3s Can Help Correct Your Brain’s Imbalances
It’s interesting to note that the body produces serotonin on its own, with help from precursors in the intestinal tract. Even so, the brain is unable to process that serotonin without help. Specifically, it uses omega-3 fatty acids for this purpose. Studies have found that people suffering from mental illness (including depression) have severe deficiencies in vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids.
While taking supplements is helpful, there’s certainly no substitute for correcting these deficiencies with diet. Try eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such:
- Fish and shellfish
- Chia seeds
- Leafy greens
By eating foods rich in tryptophan and omega-3, you’re ensuring that your body is able to synthesise serotonin and that your brain is able to process it.
Depressed? The Cabin Dhaka Can Help.
If you suffer from depression, it can feel as if there’s no hope left in the world. But your happiness is possible, and the mental health professionals at The Cabin Dhaka can help.
We’ll work with you to develop a personalised treatment plan that takes your diet into account. Our services are confidential and culturally sensitive. Contact us today to arrange a free phone assessment, and take the first step towards a better life.