“You are what you eat” is a timeless and frequently used statement often used to describe physical attributes. If all you eat are sweets, then you are going to reap the consequences of that, by being generally unhealthy and overweight. But what most people don’t know, is how what you eat directly affects your brain chemistry and mental health. Nutritionists have been studying the effects of diet on mental health since nutrition became a proper science, and now strides in nutritional neuroscience is shedding light on how your diet influences behavior and emotion.
The most common mental disorders around the world are undoubtedly depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and bipolar disorder. In congruence with this is the simple fact that most countries are deficient in many vital nutrients. It has been proven that people who have depression usually choose poor eating habits due to lack of willpower or care about themselves. Chemically this continues an exponential process of increasing and prolonging depressive symptoms such as low self-esteem, feelings of alienation, and can further the path to suicide. Most people diagnosed with depression are prescribed one of many anti-depressions or mood stabilizer pharmaceutical drugs on the market. Due to the complexity of these drugs, many side effects can occur leading to people choosing not to take the drugs and continuing with their disorder, siding with the fact that they’d rather be depressed than gain weight or experience other side effects. The importance of recognizing nutrition as a possible alternative to pharmaceutical drugs or a complementary course of action can aid psychiatrists in treating patients that might otherwise not comply with their medication routine.
Depression and most mental health issues are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Low levels of serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline are often associated with depression. Multiple studies have found that proper supplementation with amino acids such as tryptophan, methionine, and phenylalanine have been an effective aid in treating depression and other mood disorders. Tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, can help bring about sleep and tranquility. This is due to the fact that on an empty stomach, tryptophan is converted into serotonin which is a neurotransmitter that is key to mood regulation. Because of this restoring serotonin levels can diminish depression symptoms caused by mood fluxes, similar to most SSRI (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) depression medication.
As well as serotonin deficiencies, deficiencies in omgega-3 fatty acids mainly found in fish oil, and low levels of vitamin B12 can also decrease depression symptoms. In patients given these two supplements or by eating foods high in omgega-3s and B12, depression has been treated by on setting mood elevation.
Magnesium deficiencies have also been found to incite depression. Magnesium is essential to many neurochemical reactions in the body, and by raising your Magnesium levels your body can transmit hormones more effectively. With hormones being transferred and processed properly the body functions as it is supposed to, making dopamine levels and serotonin not wasted when it should be used to balance mood.
Most people who have mental disorders are also nutritionally deficient in omega-3 acids, minerals such as magnesium and B vitamins. These important substances are vital precursors to neurotransmitters and are required for the brain to function properly. Foods such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains provide more lasting effects on brain chemistry and mood. Sweets tend to provide an immediate but short-term relief with high rates of withdrawal, leading to mood changes.
Poor diet, mineral, and vitamin deficiency lead to neural pathways becoming ineffective. This causes the brain to not be able to properly function, produce mood stabilizing hormones, and cause general unrest of the mind. Findings in the field of nutrition and brain chemistry are continuing to go hand in hand, leading to a greater understanding of brain chemistry. With this new knowledge, acceptance of nutrition among psychiatrists and health care providers will have a stronger foot hold in fighting the recent epidemic of depression and other psychological disorders.