Written by Nadeen Taha, Clinical Dietitian at the Valens Clinic.
Nutrients such as essential fats, amino acids, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals can support healthy neurotransmitter activity in the brain. They provide protection from the effects of oxidants, which studies have shown to negatively impact mood and mental health.
Vitamins and minerals are crucial for the brain due to their role in the conversion of carbohydrates into glucose, fatty acids into healthy brain cells, and amino acids into neurotransmitters.
Malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies have been linked to a number of mental health disorders. For example, a low intake of folate (folic acid), from sources such as dark green leafy vegetables and legumes, has been correlated with a significantly higher incidence of depression. Also, supplementation for people with low Zinc and vitamins B1,B2 and C levels has been associated with a greater reduction in symptoms for patients diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder. In children, deficiencies in iron, magnesium and zinc have been found in those with symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Furthermore, inadequate intakes of Omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with depression, as well as concentration and memory problems; whereas an increase in consumption of these fatty acids has been shown to help in the management of bipolar depressive symptoms and cognitive function. It was also shown that people with Schizophrenia, overall, have lower levels of polyunsaturated fats and lower antioxidant enzymes in their brains. Without adequate nutrition, free radicals or damaging inflammatory cells circulate within the brain and possibly contribute to further damage.
The Impact of what you Eat on your Mental Health
When comparing the “traditional” diets to the “Western” diet, the risk of depression has been shown to be 25-35% lower in those who eat a traditional diet. This is likely due to the relatively higher intake of vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, and fish/seafood. As well as the limited intake of processed foods and refined sugars that are more prevalent in a “typical” Western diet. Diets that are high in refined sugars can be harmful to the brain by promoting inflammation and oxidative stress. Several studies have shown a correlation between a high consumption of refined sugars and impaired brain function as well as worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, including depression and anxiety.
Intestinal microbiota have also been shown to play a role in the production of neurotransmitters. Approximately 95% of your serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, is produced in your gastrointestinal tract and is influenced by the billions of “good” bacteria in your intestinal microbiome. These bacteria help to limit inflammation, maximize nutrient absorption and directly activate neural pathways that travel between the gut and the brain. Therefore your digestive system not only digests what you eat, but it also guides your emotions.
Please seek guidance from a specialized Clinical Dietitian or Doctor for your individual needs