It is scary to think that mental health issues affect one out of four people. Whilst mental health is often in the news, the link between diet, low mood, depression and anxiety is rarely spoken about.
Diet may not change the factors that cause depression and anxiety, but it can impact on how you cope with it. Diet affects the production of hormones and neurotransmitters and these in turn affect your mood and ability to cope with stress.
The neurotransmitter serotonin is critical to helping you balance your mood, cope with anxiety and stress. This is the transmitter that most anti-depressants aim to increase. Serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan, an amino acid found in protein rich foods and in particular in fish, walnuts, oats, pumpkin seeds, legumes and bananas. Tryptophan is then converted into 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) but before it can be converted iron, vitamin B3 and folate are required. Once 5-HTP is available the co-factors magnesium and B6 are then needed to ensure effective conversion to serotonin.
Not only is diet important in the provision of co-factors and enzymes, it is also important in maintaining a healthy gut microflora. Your gut flora produces neurotransmitters, which can have either a negative or beneficial affect on mood and anxiety levels. Gut flora dysbiosis is one of the reasons why so many people with IBS or food intolerances experience depression, anxiety or mental health issues.
Research shows that if the integrity of your gut lining is compromised then the gut-brain barrier may also be compromised. This means that molecules that shouldn’t cross the brain-barrier do cross it and trigger neuro-inflammation affecting how you feel and function.
Other factors that contribute to poor mood include blood-sugar imbalance, hormonal imbalance including thyroid issues, nutritional deficiencies, such as essential fatty acids or B12, inflammation and food intolerances. Daylight and exercise have been shown to improve serotonin production, which may be why people tend to feel better when the sun shines!
Trauma, both physical and emotional, even when experienced during childhood, impacts gut integrity and therefore mental and physical health in adulthood. Likewise, chronic stress as it can affect inflammation and gut integrity.
Research often shows that those diagnosed with clinical depression have a 30% to 50% increase in inflammatory markers caused by over activation of the immune system. Short-term inflammation is a protective factor in immunity – think of a bee sting or a swollen ankle. If the inflammation becomes chronic it will eventually cause havoc on the body and can lead to low levels of serotonin and/or dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter the absence of which can lead you to feeling unmotivated and hopeless.
Finally, did you know that there may be a genetic reason for a predisposition to a higher and, sometimes, much higher risk of depression and anxiety? A simple and inexpensive test can help establish if your anxiety is caused by a condition known as pyroluria which indicates that you have higher requirements for certain ‘B’ vitamins and zinc. With professional help this can be alleviated.
Looking at diet, lifestyle and the underlying psychological causes can help you overcome mental health issues! Call me to see how we can work together to help you feel better!