What You Eat Affects Your Mental Health

What You Eat Affects Your Mental Health

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September is National Suicide Awareness Month, but every month should have a focus on mental health, which is more prevalent than you may realize. According to recent studies:

  • 1 in 5 adults in the United States lives with mental illness
  • In 2020, nearly 52.9 million adults were living with mental illness
  • In 2022, 40 million adults in the United States have anxiety alone—over 18%
  • Youth mental health is declining

These numbers are astronomical. The good news is that it is preventable, treatable, and curable with the right meal plan. Now, you’re wondering, “What does food have to do with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or other mental health disorders?”

Let’s dive in to find out.

Evaluating Our Gut Health

  • The Gut: Starts at the mouth and involves the entire gastrointestinal tract down to the anus. Food goes in and should go out as byproducts. In the meantime, the intestinal tract has an intestinal lining that should be tight, aid in digestion, and absorb nutrients.
  • Villi: Intestinal finger-like structures should absorb our nutrients and move
    particles through.
  • Tight Junctions: The intestinal barrier that should keep particles, toxins, and
    bacteria IN the intestinal tract so we can expel the byproducts.

The intestinal lining gets damaged over time due to stress, medications, trauma, and our food. Certain foods are inflammatory, and these are specific for each individual. Generally speaking, gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and almond are the top inflammatory foods. Some individuals have other sensitivities or allergies, some are affected by all these food groups, and some are only affected by one! It is specific to the individual.

Food sensitivities and allergies can be assessed via blood testing, which tells the antibody (inflammatory marker) reaction to the foods being tested. This is an objective way to see what your body is reacting to and what it is tolerating. We can use the blood test results to further evaluate gut health, vitamin and nutrient absorption, mental health, and metabolic function.

Food sensitivities and allergies can present as abdominal pain, bloating, irritable bowel
syndrome, migraines, and joint pain…but they can also present as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, anger, sleep disturbance, and other mental health disorders!

The Connection Between Inflammation and Our Gut Lining
Remember that tight junctions are the barrier of the intestinal lining, and with damage to our gut lining, the tight junctions open, and gaps become present. This means toxins, bacteria, and food particles can seep into our tissues and bloodstream, which is abnormal. The immune system reacts to this by developing antibodies, or inflammatory markers, which attack our organs. The immune system also reacts by creating cytokines, which are a particular type of inflammatory marker that affects our organs but can also cross the blood-brain barrier, reaching the brain. Cytokines in the brain affect our chemical balance.

Think about a sprained ankle-inflammation around it causes it to be swollen, painful, and not work efficiently, and the ligaments of the ankle are weak after a sprain. The inflammation on the inside of your body and in the brain is similar to the inflammation in the ankle…but worse.

The Importance of Vitamins
When the gut lining is damaged, not only are these toxins getting into our tissues and bloodstream, but the development of cytokines allows the inflammation to reach our brain. In addition, we’re also not absorbing nutrients properly. This leads to vitamin deficiencies, and vitamins are vital for our brain function and chemical balance of the brain.

Let’s talk about a few specifically:

  • Omega 3: Very important for proper blood flow to the brain. Efficient, equal blood flow to the brain is vital for chemical communication, performance of cognitive tasks, and memory.
  • Vitamin D: Protects nerves, regulates the immune system, and correlates with
    mood stabilization.
  • Vitamin B12: Vital nutrient to protect the nerves, producing brain chemicals and preventing brain shrinkage
  • Magnesium: Important for protein building, blood sugar stability, blood pressure stability, nerve transmission, calming, and regulating mood.
  • Folate: Vital for red blood cell formation, healthy cell growth, and
    proper serotonin levels.
  • L-Theanine: Aids mood regulations and stress reduction.
  • Amino Acids: Essential for hormones and amino acids that increase serotonin and reduce psychological stress.

And speaking of vitamins: How do we obtain these vital vitamins and nutrients? Naturally is, of course, the best option – however, it isn’t always realistic.

Obtaining nutrients and vitamins through our food is the BEST way, though sometimes we cannot consume enough of the right foods for the adequate amount of nutrients, and sometimes we don’t absorb the nutrients due to our gut damage. Supplementation can also benefit many individuals.

Let’s Talk about Food
Blood sugar is critical for brain function, hormone balance, and cellular recovery. Protein in the diet can provide quality vitamins and minerals but is also a key component in stabilizing blood sugar. Did you know that irregular blood sugar levels can increase cortisol (stress hormone) and cytokines (inflammation), which can augment anxiety, depression, bipolar disorders, and several other mental health disorders? However, it can be controllable with adequate protein in our diet.

Check out some of the foods which can help to promote blood sugar stability and stabilize mental health:

  • Green, leafy vegetables and other cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts) are essential in providing many of the vitamins mentioned above.
  • Lean, unsaturated proteins (chicken, fish, turkey, pork loin, plant-based proteins, quinoa, tofu) are also helpful in providing essential vitamins for brain function, hormone control, and blood sugar stability.
  • Fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines support vitamin levels, healthy brain development, and bone density.
  • Nuts and seeds – in moderation!
  • Theanine and branch chain amino acids – through proper supplementation.

Improving and stabilizing mental health needs a full-body approach. We cannot expect long-term (positive) effects by treating just one area. We cannot expect long-term (positive) effects without looking from the inside out. Start with your food and your gut.

This article is not to treat or to make treatment recommendations. You should always consult your provider before making any dietary or supplement change.

Berman Health and Wellness is a Functional Medicine Center that helps individuals reach their goal weight and optimize their gut health while avoiding needless medications and achieving the highest quality of life imaginable. Focusing on and optimizing gut health is vital to protecting our brain, metabolism, hormones, and longevity.

Call 239.431.0232 or visit: www.bermanpt.com/wellness to learn more.