Nutrition and Mood
Whilst mental illness derives from psychological or emotional components, nutrition can also help us improve our mental health. Our bodies, particularly our brains, are depleted of key nutrients required for normal brain chemistry and overall health as a result of our modern-day diets.
By optimising our nutrition and addressing digestive issues, we can assist in supporting our mood. This is not to mean that emotional or psychological issues should be ignored; but, diet and lifestyle choices may play a significant role.
The Gut-Brain Axis
Recent research has shown a connection between the central nervous system and the gut bacteria, called the gut-brain axis. Poor digestion can be caused by poor brain function and vice versa.
The nutrient storages within the body and the synthesis of our own brain chemistry, more specifically the saturation or depletion of five neurotransmitters in the brain have a direction association. These refer to the GABA, serotonin, norepinephrine, endorphin, and dopamine neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters help to determine the severity of our moods, including sadness, anger, energy, and activity levels.
Nutrition, movement, and nervous system state all have an impact on neurotransmitter levels. One of the most powerful regulators of transmitter levels is nutrition. The number of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids, and enzymes we consume affects the levels of neurotransmitters in our bodies. We will be unable to produce the essential proteins and consequently neurotransmitters if we do not feed our bodies with the appropriate nutrients.
Nutritional Deficiencies and Mood
Here are the top 6 nutritional deficiencies involved in poor mood and mental health:
1. Essential Fatty Acids
The brain is composed of around 70% fat, which contains cholesterol. Cholesterol is mostly present in the brain, where it plays a critical function. The brain requires Omega-3 fatty acids for normal development, function, and mood regulation. Omega 3 fats, along with other healthy fats, help brain cells communicate with each other, improve brain-cell plasticity, and reduce inflammation, which can damage brain cells. Omega 3 fats have been shown to help people who are depressed or have mood disorders.
Unfortunately, our bodies cannot produce Omega 3 fats; thus, we must consume foods that contain them. Omega 6 fats (often found in fried and processed foods) predominate in today’s diet, whereas Omega 3 fats are in limited supply. Both are necessary for the proper functioning of our brains. While Omega 6 fatty acids are essential to the human body, cooking or processing them can reduce their nutritional value and make them unhealthy.
Foods to eat: salmon, avocados, flax and chia seeds, brazil nuts and walnuts.
2. Oxidative stress
Oxidative stress contributes to anxiety and depression by causing inflammation, which affects normal brain function and leads in poor mood. Several factors contribute to this, including an inflammatory diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, processed foods, harmful fats, toxins, and stress.
Foods to eat: colourful range of vegetables and fruits.
3. Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is one of the most important vitamins for mental health because it’s a cofactor in the key mood neurotransmitters serotonin, GABA and dopamine. A deficiency can cause anxiety, depression, irritability, confusion, fatigue and PMS. A vitamin B6 deficiency can be due to some drugs, malabsorption and alcoholism. Good digestion is critical for B6 absorption.
Foods to eat: wild-caught seafood, turkey breast, grass-fed beef, beans, nuts, avocado and leafy greens.
Hippocampus and prefrontal cortex are affected by zinc deficiency. Inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain are both exacerbated by high levels of glutamate activation. Zinc is also required for the production of neurotransmitters, and deficiency in this mineral can result in symptoms such as depression, ADHD, memory problems, seizures, and aggressive behaviour. Some of the reasons of deficiency are poor digestion and nutritional deficiencies.
Foods to eat: oysters and shellfish, chicken, almonds, spinach and raw cacao.
5. Excess Copper
Excess copper can disrupt the equilibrium of neurotransmitters, decreasing dopamine and raising norepinephrine. Copper enhances brain activity, giving the sensation of a rushing mind and anxiousness. This may lead to postpartum depression and other forms of mental illness. Zinc and copper have an inverse connection. To properly detox from copper, you will require expert advice.
6. Vitamin B9
If you don’t get enough methylfolate in your diet, your body may have difficulty producing dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, and noradrenaline, which can lead to a spike in cortisol levels and a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, OCD, and schizophrenia. Environmental and hereditary factors can contribute, including poor nutrition and lifestyle choices, as well as psychological and physical stress.
Foods to eat: spinach, asparagus, broccoli, papaya and lentils.
Carabotti, M., Scirocco, A., Maselli, M. A., & Severi, C. (2015). The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Annals of gastroenterology, 28(2), 203–209.
Clapp, M., Aurora, N., Herrera, L., Bhatia, M., Wilen, E., & Wakefield, S. (2017). Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clinics and practice, 7(4), 987. https://doi.org/10.4081/cp.2017.987
Leyse-Wallace, R. author. (2013). Nutrition and mental health. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group.
Rao, T. S., Asha, M. R., Ramesh, B. N., & Rao, K. S. (2008). Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses. Indian journal of psychiatry, 50(2), 77–82. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.42391