Nutrition and Mental Well-Being
We all have heard the phrase “you are what you eat” too many times to count. But did you realize that your nutrition plays a vital role in how you think? Prescription medications can be used to treat anxiety and depression, yet many of us do not stop to consider that nutritional deficiencies may have played a part in the onset and progression of those mood disorders. As Naturopathic physicians we are continually searching for the cause of disease so that we can better restore the body to a healthy natural state. As we head into Spring and the abundance of produce nature provides, let us explore the role nutrition plays in mental health and well-being.
The Brain Depends on Good Nutrition:
The human brain is made up of billions of neurons which have the ability to continue growing well into adulthood. These neurons use brain chemicals called neurotransmitters to send chemical signals within our brain to affect our behavior. Protein, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids are used not only to produce neurotransmitters, but to insure that they can perform effectively. Fluctuations in nutrients and deficiencies of vitamins and minerals from an unhealthy diet can hinder the transmission of the brain chemicals which alter our emotions. The good news is that a diet high in brain nourishing foods can help prevent and even halt many common mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, AD(H)D, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder OCD, and addiction. Here are some tips for foods that can support mental health:
Tip #1 Protein: Without adequate protein you will not have the building blocks (amino acids) to produce the neurotransmitters which control mood, behavior, and focus. Protein is not just found in animal foods, research has shown that all plants contain protein and at least 14% of the total calories of every plant are protein. Children and adults needt 1g of protein per kilogram (example: 130 # person = 59kg = 59 grams of protein per day) at a minimum. A diet rich in variety of protein sources will supply all of the essential amino acids needed for optimal brain function. Here are some sources of plant and animal protein to include in your diet:
- 3oz. Almonds= 10g protein
- 1 cup Lentils= 18g protein
- 1 cups Broccoli= 2.5g protein
- 2 Tablespoons peanut butter= 7g protein
- 1.5oz chicken breast= 10.5 g protein
Tip #2 Folate, B6, Zinc, and Magnesium: The incredible colors, textures, and tastes of fruits and vegetables make them powerhouses of brain nourishing vitamins and minerals like Folate, B6, Zinc, and Magnesium. These important vitamins and minerals are essential for helping our brains process information. Folate and B6 are B-vitamins that are essential for good memory and a strong, healthy nervous system. Beets, navy beans and pinto beans are excellent sources of folate while broccoli, salmon, sweet potato, tuna and spinach give high doses of B6. Studies have shown that people with ADHD may have lower levels of zinc and magnesium. Both supplements are used to help people stay calm and more alert. Zinc comes from oysters, meat, eggs, seafood, black-eyed peas and tofu. You can add whole wheat, quinoa, almonds and walnuts for good amounts of magnesium.
Tip #3 Essential Fatty Acids (DHA/EPA): Your brain is adapted to thrive on high levels of Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Deficiency of fatty acids has been linked to aggressiveness, depression, sleep disorders, and temper tantrums. There is overwhelming evidence that good nutrition including adequate DHA is important to maximize health and prevent aging of the brain. Most people eat a diet low in the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA which can be found in walnuts, fish, flax seeds and soy beans, therefore supplementation using a reputable brand is recommended. At NaturoMedica we only carry brands of Essential Fatty Acids that regularly submit sample for stringent pollutant and heavy metal testing. Do your brain a favor and start taking your Essential Fatty Acids today!
Tip #4 Probiotics: The role of digestive function in mental health is commonly overlooked. Most people do not realize that serotonin is produced by beneficial bacteria, called probiotics, in the gastrointestinal tract. By some estimates as much as 90% of serotonin is produced this way! In order to have good amounts of probiotics we must maintain a healthy gut environment. Foods which have high amounts of natural probiotics such as keifer, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kim chi, are not eaten in large quantities by most Americans. Inflammation due to food allergies, overuse of antibiotics, and gastrointestinal disorders all contribute to impaired gut flora.
Both food allergy tests and stool analysis can identify the cause of inflammation and gastrointestinal disease which may contribute to low levels of gastrointestinal produced serotonin. Children can be tested as young as age 1. Several current studies show a correlation between food sensitivities and an increase in symptoms related to depression, autism, AD(H)D, and anxiety in children and young adults. Stool testing is also often used evaluate the health of the digestive tract and to help devise a plan to improve intestinal health.
Keeping your brain healthy by eating a well-balanced, organic, whole foods diet is the vital first step in supporting proper mental development, good learning skills, strong cognitive function, and overall wellbeing. At NaturoMedica we support mental wellbeing using a whole body approach utilizing state of the art testing and comprehensive individualized treatment plans. Come in to the clinic to see how you can support your mental health this Spring.