Because anxiety and depression are such common mental health conditions worldwide, it is no wonder that researchers continue to look for any connections between daily habits and cognitive issues. According to the World Health Organization, not only are anxiety and depression far too common, but depression may become one of the top health concerns in the world by the year 2030. This factor leads researchers to look at the relationship between mental health and nutrition. Nutritional psychiatry is the area of research that examines how nutrition impacts mental health symptoms.
Eating healthy has a significant impact on one’s body. Food provides the energy necessary for physical activity. Even for simply performing daily activities, it is essential to eat healthily and consume nutritious food. These nutrition-dense foods provide the substances needed to support the body by using energy, repairing tissues, and remaining healthy. In addition, healthy eating helps individuals maintain good body weight and avoid the detrimental impacts associated with obesity.
In a meta-analysis of dietary patterns and the risk of depression, scientists found interesting connections between people’s diet and their increased or decreased risk for developing depressive symptoms.
This review of twenty-one studies from ten different countries found that individuals who consumed healthy food had a lower risk of depression. These healthy eaters consumed more vegetables, fruit, whole grains, olive oil, fish, low-fat dairy, and antioxidants than their counterparts. Additionally, the individuals at a lower risk of depression ate fewer animal products.
Alternatively, researchers noticed that those who ate higher red and processed meats, more refined grains, sugary foods, high-fat dairy products, butter, and potatoes had a significantly higher risk of depression symptoms. These at-risk individuals also tended to eat fewer fruits and vegetables.
Another study looked at the relationship between anxiety and diets high in saturated fat and sugars for adults over fifty. Researchers found that these individuals had higher levels of anxiety.
Furthermore, similar results were found in studies of children and adolescents. In a 2019 review of fifty-six studies, researchers noticed a relationship between adolescents who had a high intake of healthy food and a lowered risk of depression.
The gut-brain axis describes how the brain, the endocrine system, and the immune system influence cognitive and emotional functions. The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional link that connects the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system. In addition, it combines the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic system of the autonomic nervous system to respond to stress.
These gut-brain connections allow the brain to have an impact on intestinal function. Moreover, the microbiomes found in the gastrointestinal tract may influence the gut-brain axis and its effects on mental health symptoms, including depression and anxiety. This factor is just another way in which mental health and nutrition are connected on the biological level.
For example, researchers found that they can induce depression-like symptoms by adding pathogenic bacteria into animals’ digestive systems. One study showed that when treated with a probiotic known as Bifidobacterium infantis and citalopram, rats who had experienced maternal separation showed improvement in their depressive-like symptoms, including inflammatory symptoms caused by peripheral proinflammatory interleukin secretion.
While the research is generally dominated by the relationship between probiotics and mental health, prebiotics has similar benefits to probiotics. For example, prebiotics can support a healthy gut, promote better digestive health, and help your body have fewer antibiotics-related health problems.
In general, prebiotics can be food for probiotics, meaning that probiotics may need prebiotics to work effectively to impact mental health. Prebiotics can influence the growth and activity of intestinal bacteria.
In recent studies, scientists have noticed that changes to microbes in the gut through probiotic treatment may reduce the risk of developing psychological and psychiatric symptoms. For example, in one study, treatments using Lactobacillus rhamnosus altered GABA expression in specific brain areas. These areas included the cortical cingulate, hippocampus, middle, and prelimbic regions.
Furthermore, these regions impact cortisol release, which is considered to be the stress hormone. When this bacterium decreases the amount of GABA in the brain, it can reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms.
In addition, recent research has shown that probiotics may lessen the impacts of depressive symptoms. While this literature is relatively new and requires further peer-review, it points again to the relationship between diet and mental wellness. Thus, eating nutritiously dense food is essential now more than ever.
Gut microbes are not the only substances that impact mental health and nutrition; neurotransmitters also play a role in the gut-brain axis. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that deliver messages between synapses and nerve fibers. We rely on neurotransmitters to transfer information to the brain and out of the brain.
In some studies, researchers have seen gut microbes impact certain neurotransmitters, such as GABA, which can influence the hippocampus, amygdala, and other parts of the brain to promote or inhibit a stress response.
BRAIN-DERIVED NEUROTROPHIC FACTOR (BDNF)
The brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a substance associated with emotion and even cognitive functioning. Some studies have shown that BDNF and changes to BDNF levels in the limbic structures may impact the neurobiology of depressive symptoms. For example, prebiotics may increase BDNF levels in the hippocampus.
EATING UNHEALTHY FOOD
Consuming nutrient-dense foods and making the changes to promote healthy eating is critical to improving one’s overall lifestyle. Even more so, eating unhealthy food, such as certain comfort foods, can influence the impact of depression, anxiety, and stress responses.
Many studies have shown that people who eat foods associated with stress, including processed meat, chocolate, sweets, fried foods, refined cereals, and high-fat dairy products, are more likely to experience depression symptoms. Alternatively, those who participated in clean eating were less likely to have depression symptoms.
When stressed, people tend to gravitate towards comfort foods that may be high in calories, fats, and sugar. Because this stress eating can affect weight and mental health, it is essential to make the dietary changes necessary to promote better mental health. Additionally, stress eating comfort foods can lead to negative consequences, including feeling sluggish and having poor self-esteem.
The gut-brain axis may also play a role in anxiety symptoms. Certain gut microbes may play a role in inflammation and increased stress responses in the brain. Both effects the gut-brain axis has on the brain could help someone manage their anxiety symptoms.
IMPORTANCE OF MENTAL HEALTH AND NUTRITION: PROMOTING HEALTHY HABITS
While a healthy diet is a primary factor in good mental health, other practices play a significant role in one’s lifestyle. Aspects such as sleep, exercise, and more can significantly impact someone’s mental health state.
Sleep quality, as well as sleep quantity, are strong predictors of mental health outcomes. Not only do individuals need enough sleep to promote mental well-being, but sleep quality is just as important. Our body needs to take time to reset during sleep to better attend to and engage with our environment.
Exercise is essential to overall health. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults participate in at least 150 minutes a week of physical activity. It is beneficial to incorporate daily movement into our healthy habits program. Exercise can produce endorphins in the brain, and it has implications for physical well-being.
ENGAGEMENT IN TREATMENT
Finally, engaging in treatment to the fullest extent is vital to a successful recovery from mental health issues. Because environmental and biological factors impact mental health, one should choose healthy habits to support their mental health like nutrition, physical activity, therapy, psychological treatments, and more.
CHANGING LIFESTYLE HABITS
To change your lifestyle for the better, make sure that you have access to the resources you need. For example, working with a psychological professional to help manage mental health symptoms is helpful. Still, it may be necessary to work with other professionals to help establish other healthy habits.
A dietitian is a professional who can help make sure clients are eating well and treat specific health conditions by providing evidence-based recommendations. However, some dietitians may not have as much training as certified nutritionists.
Nutritionists aid individuals in maintaining a healthy diet and can help make dietary changes. They also focus on specific areas such as sports nutrition, digestive disorders, and autoimmune conditions. A nutritionist also needs to be certified by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists.
The information presented on this page is a general overview and is offered here as a resource. At Ampelis Health, each client meets with our medical team to determine treatment protocols based on individual circumstances.
If you would like to learn more about Ampelis Health or have additional questions, feel free to call.
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