- Close 95% of the neurotransmitter serotonin is produced in the gut
- Serotonin regulates mood and controls appetite and sleep patterns
- Foods rich in folate, Vitamin D and omega 3 are good for mental health
World Mental Health Day 2018 is being celebrated across the globe today. The aim of marking world Mental Health Day is to raise awareness about mental illnesses and how they affect the day-to-day lives of people from various demographics. The day is observed to empower people suffering from various mental illnesses and encouraging them to seek help. The theme of the World Mental Health Day this year is "Young people and mental health in a changing world." According to a WHO blog, "Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated." This in itself is an appalling statistic, with another one being, "In terms of the burden of the disease among adolescents, depression is the third leading cause." The blog post further stated that suicide is the "second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds." Fortunately, now there is quite a lot of discussion around the importance of mental illnesses and putting mental health in the same league as other physiological ailments.
But we still have a long way to go, when it comes to not only removing the taboo around mental illnesses, but also educating people - patients and their families - about dealing with depression and other allied illnesses. There are multiple triggers and causes for mental illnesses, which can be either internal of external. One of the things that is not stressed upon enough is the role of diet and nutrition in alleviating some of the symptoms of depression and anxiety. According to a blog published on the official website of Harvard Health Publishing of Harvard Medical School, "The field of Nutritional Psychiatry is relatively new; however, there are observational data regarding the association between diet quality and mental health across countries, cultures and age groups - depression in particular." But, how exactly does our diet affect our brain and in turn, our mental health? Here's a look.
How Does Diet Affect Your Mental Health?
There are studies that have concluded that certain foods, when included in daily diet, can have a significantly positive impact on an individual's mental health. This is because there's a direct link between the release of neurotransmitter serotonin - which regulates mood and controls sleep patterns and appetite - and your diet. This is because 95 percent of serotonin is released in your gastrointestinal tract, the lining of which has millions of neurons or nerve cells. Moreover, the functioning of these nerve cells is impacted by the presence or absence of your gut microbiome - the millions of healthy bacteria that populate your digestive system. No wonder then the quality of your diet has an impact on your moods and levels of stress in short-term and by extension, your mental health in the long-term.
There are multiple scientific studies and research studies to corroborate this link. According to the UK's Mental Health Foundation, "Nearly two-thirds of those who do not report daily mental health problems eat fresh fruit or fruit juice every day, compared with less than half of those who do report daily mental health problems." It further adds by saying, "A balanced mood and feelings of well-being can be protected by ensuring that our diet provides adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and water." However, it adds by saying that a healthy diet must obviously be complimented with therapy, counselling or any other treatments recommended by psychiatrists and psychologists.
Diet Tips And Foods To Maintain Mental Health
So, what can you do to maintain yourself in good mental health? Most mental health experts (and doctors in general) recommend cutting out processed foods, excessively sugary or salty foods and sodas from the diet and replace these with whole foods and natural produce like fresh fruits and vegetables. Adding fermented foods, as well as prebiotic and probiotic foods and drinks to your diet are beneficial for you, as these promote the growth of the good gut bacteria. Mental Health America (MHA) recommends reducing the consumption of caffeine and caffeinated drinks and to stay hydrated by drinking adequate amounts of water every day.
Some of the nutrients that the MHA recommends adding to your diet for improved mental well-being include folate or folic acid (vitamin B9), vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids. Green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach as well as beans, sprouts, fruits, nuts, etc., all are rich in folic acid, where fatty fish like salmon and tuna are the richest dietary sources of Vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids. Other important dietary sources of omega 3 include walnuts, flaxseeds, olive oil, fresh basil, etc. These micronutrients are not just great for your mental health, but are also responsible for improving your overall well-being. So, the bottom line is that you should strive to eat clean to keep your spirits up and maintain your mental well-being