Anxiety and Depression – How can good nutrition improve your mental health?
Believe it or not, what you put in your mouth can have a huge impact on your general mood and could even affect your feelings of happiness, improve your sleep and give you more energy.
Having suffered on and off from depression myself I have done plenty of investigation around eating for optimal mental health. Currently there is a huge amount of research based around our ‘microbiome’ – a colony of ‘good’ bacteria in our large intestines which is being shown to have hugely beneficial effects on health – even some studies show that having different mixes of bacteria in our gut can determine how much we weigh!
As well as all of that, we produce around 80-90% of our serotonin in our gut. Serotonin is the ‘happy’ hormone which is generally found to be in low in individuals suffering from depression (prescribed anti-depressants often act on serotonin receptors in our neurons to increase levels) so you can probably follow that if our gut health is compromised, our serotonin production may also be. Deficiencies in key nutrients, other hormonal imbalances and dietary intolerances may also be partly responsible for mental health problems.
So what can you do to help yourselves?
- Keep your blood sugar balanced: Eat a good quality protein source with every meal. Including protein helps prevent blood sugar highs and lows you may experience from eating carb-heavy meals.
- Avoid sugary snacks
- Eat a high fibre diet rich in a rainbow of fruit (2 portions) and vegetables (5 portions) daily
- Gradually decrease caffeine consumption: Too much caffeine can result in elevated cortisol levels (the hormone released in stressful situations) which can be inflammatory to the body. Do not cut caffeine out suddenly though as this could worsen symptoms initially
- Avoid heavily processed foods: Foods with colourings, additives and stabilisers could be causing chemical imbalances and may be playing havoc with your gut health
- Get your thyroid checked by your doctor: If you are suffering from depression, lethargy, weight gain, mental fatigue – it may be worth asking your doctor to check your thyroid function
- Consider probiotics – either add in probiotic foods such as kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt, miso or tempeh or take a high quality probiotic supplement with at least 20 billion bacteria
- Eat plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids: Essential for brain function, Western diets are usually severely deficient in omega-3 intake. You can find good levels of Omega-3 in SMASH fish (sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring), flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, eggs
- Increase intake of key B vitamins in your diet
B3 – poultry, salmon, brown rice, tomatoes, bell peppers
B6 – spinach, tuna, cabbage, garlic, turkey
B12 – sardines, salmon, tuna, lamb, yoghurt
B9 (folate) – lentils, asparagus, spinach, broccoli
- Supplement Vitamin D between October and March (get levels tested by your GP first): Many British people are Vitamin D deficient due to the lack of exposure to sunlight in the UK during these months. Vitamin D supplementation has a positive association with improved SAD (seasonal affective disorder) symptoms. I recommend 3000IU per day of the active D3 (I use BetterYou oral spray)
- EXERCISE! I cannot stress how important this last point is. Exercise releases endorphins which helps boost our mood but also it can reduce inflammatory immune system chemicals which can be implicated in mood disorders. Even low impact exercises such as yoga have been shown to have positive mood boosting results.
- Talk to someone – I can assure you, you are not alone.
This is not an exhaustive list of dietary and lifestyle interventions that can help improve symptoms of anxiety and depression but is a solid starting point.
If you are suffering from constipation, IBS, bloating or any other digestive issues and also having feelings of low mood, these simple dietary changes may be beneficial for you.
Please always consult a GP if you feel you are unable to cope with any feelings of anxiety and depression you are experiencing.