What is the connection with mental health and diet? A growing amount of evidence links overconsumption of processed products, a lack of nutrients and large quantities of sugar, toxins in the food chain, as well as synthetic additives to mental health issues and illnesses.
1 in 4 adults experience a mental illness in the UK and 17% of adults were prescribed antidepressants in 2017-2018. I’m sure these figures must have increased significantly since the pandemic and although diet does not play the only role when it comes to mental health-it sure is important and I would say anyone who suffers from mental health issues or illnesses should do what they can nutritionally to support themselves with the guidance of a professional.
Malnutrition, poor blood sugar management, dehydration, poor absorption of nutrients, gut inflammation and imbalance, toxin and synthetic additive exposure, food intolerances/allergies and stimulants for example are all major stressors for the body and impact the central nervous system, as well as your well-being. Food is intrinsically linked to mood and brain health and food choices are strongly implicated in mental health risks. It is not just the food that we are eating that can contribute significantly to the problem. Even if poor food choices is not the biggest contributing factor, it will certainly play a big role in actually addressing mental health problems.
Among individuals aged 15-44 it is the leading cause of disability worldwide…
Many nutritional deficiencies have been linked to poor mental health such as B12, B9, vitamin D, omega 3, and zinc for example however the evidence linking diet to mental illness has evolved from a focus on specific nutrient deficiencies to an emphasis on overall dietary pattern. As a therapist I know that it is rarely as simple as addressing a particular nutritional deficiency although sometimes this can be an important factor. An individual and in-depth approach must be taken for best results.
The central nervous system is often the most affected by nutritional deficiencies. The brain is an organ with very high metabolic and nutrient demands. By starving the brain of the building blocks necessary for its function and by over-consuming a poor diet the brain cannot work properly as toxins and metabolic waste accumulate and therefore neurones are poorly oxygenated. This inevitably plays on our mood but in the long term it can lead to reduced cognitive ability, tissue damage and even neuro-degeneration.
The gut-brain axis is the communication that connects the gut and the brain. This system is complex but includes the vagus nerve as one of the key elements of this connection. The vagus nerve sends signals in both directions. However, 80-90% of the information transmitted by the vagus nerve flows to the brain and only 10-20% of the signals are transmitted from the brain to the body.
A large body of research shows that the gut microorganisms can activate the vagus nerve and that such activation plays a critical role in mediating effects on the brain and behaviour, amongst other decisive factors. We also know that stress and our thoughts and emotions affect our gut health and our gut microbiome via the vagus nerve, causing a wide array of problems, such as poor digestive and enzymatic capabilities, dysbiosis, intestinal hyperpermeability, altered movement through the intestines and nutrient malabsorption. It is why we must take a holistic approach as the body is very much interconnected.
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