Diet and Mental Health
According to the World Heart Federation, Cardiovascular disease is responsible for over 17 million deaths in the world every single year.
After spending some time researching, I came across an article titled: ‘What we Aren’t Eating is Killing Us’. The study was conducted by Ashkan Afshin, an assistant professor at the institute for Health Metrics at the University of Washington. He wanted to find out which countries ranked the highest and lowest for death rates due to poor diet. The highest death rate was found in Uzbekistanin central Asia, whilst the lowest death rate was seen in Israel, followed by France, Spain and Japan. The UK ranked 23rd for the lowest rates.
What is the connection between food and our mental health? Is it just as strong as the connection between food and our physical health?
The foods we eat have a major impact on the functioning of our brains, and ultimately have a major impact on our moods too. In an article by Eva Selhub for Harvard Medical School, it is described how fuelling our brains and bodies with ‘low premium fuels’ (for example processed and refined foods) provides few opportunities for the brain to get rid of them. Diets high in refined sugars worsen our bodies’ regulation of insulin, as well as contributing to inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function, which can also worsen symptoms of mood disorders such as depression.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods and inhibit pain. 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells. Ultimately it makes sense that the inner workings of our digestive systems don’t just help us to digest food, but also guide how we feel.
Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK live with a common mental disorder such as depression or anxiety. One of the many strategies used to help improve these symptoms is by changing our diets to include more fresh fruit and vegetables, eating fewer red meats and swapping saturated fats for healthy fats (such as avocados and oily fish). Various studies have found a direct link between what we eat and how we feel.
Have a read of our case study on depression.
Sometimes it’s just about being realistic
When we see clients who are, for example, depressed, we understand that it’s not so easy. Many people with mental ill-health have developed poor eating patterns over time. This may include eating little and often, not eating at all, or comfort eating a lot of the time. When we work with clients, we use a holistic approach, to look at all aspects of their lives. As occupational therapists we won’t tell you what you can and can’t do, but instead we make recommendations and provide advice and support to take small, manageable steps forwards.
For example: –
Cutting down on mood agitators. Substances such as caffeine can agitate your mood and bring on symptoms of anxiety, so try to limit your intake to 1 or 2 small drinks a day.
Cook with someone, it’s always more interesting and fun to share the cooking experience with a friend/partner/family member where possible.
Try batch cooking. It’s a great way of ensuring you will have meals in the fridge/freezer, especially for those days when you don’t feel like making anything. It will also stop you from ordering a take away.