…studies the effects of food components (minerals, vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, food additives, etc.) on our neurochemistry and neurobiology behaviors.
Nowadays, it is very common to talk and hear about the importance of nutrition, especially in an era where the way we eat could literally save the planet. But, what if the way we eat could prevent mental health issues?
We have always given so much value to food and its benefits for our organism, by focusing on our internal organs, such as the heart, the stomach, the pancreas, etc. but we have completely ignored the brain.
The brain works for us 24/7 and it needs good quality fuel: healthy food prevents and, sometimes, could treat, mental health issues, which lately are on the rise, especially in children.
Nutritional neuroscience tells us that we can improve our quality of life thanks to our diet, the macronutrients, and the components.
The main mental health issues, briefly…
Before talking about the benefits of food for the brain, let’s have a quick view on what are some of the mental health issues better known.
Depression is a widespread mental health illness that negatively affects the way we feel, think and act. It can occur anytime, but it is mostly experienced between 18-25 years old and it has been shown that women are more likely to develop it. It changes our way of living, at home, at work and usually people tend to lose interest in activities that they used to enjoy. Symptoms vary depending on people and their problems or trauma, but the most common sensations are sadness, loss of energy, insomnia, and difficulty thinking or making decisions.
Autism (or autism spectrum disorder) is a development disorder that occurs in the very early stages of life. Based on a study conducted by the Centers for Diseases Control, autism affects 1 in 44 children only in the US. However, autism could affect in different ways. For example, there are people who will have to depend on their relatives for the rest of their life and people who just have some trouble interacting with other human beings. The main characteristics of autistic people are the difficulty to understand the way people think or talk, they feel stressed and overwhelmed in case of loud noises, they deeply empathize with what happens to other people, even if they don’t know them; it is not easy to learn things and they keep thinking about something over and over. Being autistic does not necessarily mean that they have an illness or a disease: they think in a different way and they need a little bit of help for, unfortunately, the rest of their life.
Schizophrenia is a severe and chronic mental disorder, one of the worst that humans have ever experienced. Suddenly, a person who suffers from schizophrenia changes their attitude, and their way of talking, starting to imagine situations that are not connected with reality. People with schizophrenia usually don’t have a regular social life: they have problems at school, at work, in relationships, and, generally, in society.
Hyperactivity is a condition of being abnormally active, aggressive, impulsive, and constantly in motion. Family, friends, and peers may find it difficult to manage. This condition could also lead to serious situations such as injuries, car accidents, and the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol. It has been discovered that hyperactivity is a symptom of an underlying mental or physical health condition and one of them is quite often the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Commonly, it is treatable: the sooner it becomes clear, the better.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes changes in the mood of people who are affected by it. There are periods of time when they are the happiest people in the world, unexpectedly they feel terribly depressed, and in an irritable mood. Someone also experiences delusions, situations that are not the reality, or hallucinations. Unfortunately, bipolar people spend most of the time with the negative side of the illness, feeling major depressed. There are three different levels of bipolar disorder. Other symptoms could be restlessness, making unrealistic plans, being over self-confident, and being easily distracted.
Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Anxiety is a normal reaction of the body to fear, stress, and difficult situations to handle. Occasional anxiety is not a bad thing, but when it regularly appears may be a disability in daily life. People who experience anxiety feel excessively worried and in tension with little or no reason at all.
Panic attacks are even worst: during a panic attack our body starts to sweat, chest pain, and non-stop palpitations. Sometimes, they feel like having a heart attack.
The connection between western diet and mental health disease
Felice Jacka has been one of the first researchers to show a close correlation between the western diet and anxiety or depression. Western diet includes processed food, with high sugar content, red meat, white flour, and excessive salty cuisine.
Basically, our brain is the fattiest organ of our body and it represents 25% of our weight: if you feed it with low-quality fuel, it “loses weight”, consequently, it depletes the substances it needs for its perfect functioning. The hippocamp, the left side of our brain, the area related to memory and learning, starts to reduce.
How it is possible?
90% of the serotonin, the hormone of happiness, is produced in our stomach: if we don’t properly feed ourselves, inflammation in our stomach will soon occur, by converting the tryptophan, the precursor of serotonin, into a toxic substance, which leads to mental health issues.
What should we eat?
We should eat what our grandma used to call food. In 2011, it has been conducted a study that comprehends 15,000 thousand Spanish people: they nourished themselves by following the Mediterranean diet for about 6 months. After this period of time, the results have been incredible: they had less than 30% the chance to develop a mental disorder thanks to the healthiest diet in the world, along with the one in Okinawa, the island with the longest-lived people on the planet.
For example, it has been shown that Omega-3 helped to defend against depression and psychosis; fermented foods such as sauerkraut and plain yogurt could be a valid barrier against anxiety; green tea and nuts helped against senile dementia.
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, wholegrain cereals, legumes, fermented foods, seeds, healthy fats, organic fish, and meat (the latter, once a week) are the basis for the Mediterranean diet.
How powerful food is?
As omnivores, we are so lucky, because we have so much availability of nutrients that we could explore the variety that nature gave us, plus we can take the advantage of it: thanks to food and its substances, the human body is able to heal.
Pills, on the contrary, have a benefit in the short term, but they result to be so negative in the long one.
Food is prevention and it could be the cure: we are not what we eat, we are what we absorb and what we absorb could genuinely give us the chance to be even happier.
Don’t miss the chance!
To read more on similar topic, click here!