Monday, January 16, 2017

Food For Thought: The Connection Between Diet and Mental Health

     Comfort food.  We’ve all heard of it.  We’ve all had those days where we just want something familiar and comfortable to eat.  In many instances, just the smell of these dishes cooking is enough to lift our spirits.  In some cases, they are a crutch for us in our darkest moods.  These instances leave no room for doubt that food can affect our moods.  However, comfort food isn’t the only food that can do so, and in many cases our choice of comfort foods can actually hurt our mood later on.    

     In recent years, there seems to have been a major increase in the occurrence of mental illness and mood disorders.  With this increase, researchers have begun looking more and more into causes and new treatments.  One thing that has seemed to come from this is a deeper look into the connection between your gut and your brain.  Most of us have heard of the Central Nervous System (CNS), the brain and spinal cord, or the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS), nerves and gray matter.  However, there is another nervous system that most people never learn about.  That nervous system is the Enteric Nervous System (ENS).  The ENS lines our gastrointestinal tract and help to digest our food by controlling blood flow and secretions.  While this seems pretty straight forward, this nervous system is so complex that many people refer to it as our “second brain.”  Our gut communicates with our brain in many ways, so many that science is still trying to figure out what it’s all about.  One thing that we do know is that our gut is connected to mood disorders and autism. 

     In 2013, there was a major study done on mice that had the same behavioral pattern as humans with autism.  These mice were introduced to a certain strain of bacteria that changed the balance of bacteria in their guts.  When this change occurred, these mice showed a remarkable change in behavior as well, becoming more social and less anxious.  Similar studies have been performed since, studies that have changed how doctors view both mental illness and digestive disorders.  This change has led to a trend where doctors are prescribing depression medicine to patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in a hope to improve the communication between their gut and their brain. 

     This connection between our nutrition and our mental health makes even more sense when you consider the fact that our brains are always working, and like every other organ or system in our body, our brain needs fuel.  We know that proper nutrition provides the right kind of fuel for our body to work, but what is proper nutrition for our brain?  There have been a number of studies on this subject as well, and most of them agree that processed foods and foods high in sugar are the worst foods for your brain.  Diets high in these foods can lead to mood disorders, such as depression, as well as impaired brain function.

     We also have to remember that our brain is made up of 60% fat, and uses fat as its primary fuel source.  This means that we need to keep a decent amount of healthy fat in our diets for proper brain function.  This is a primary example of why “low fat” foods can actually be dangerous for us.  Many of the foods that are labeled “low fat” in the grocery store are actually loaded down with sugar and trans fats to make them taste better, to encourage repeat purchases. 
So what should we avoid to keep our brains healthy? 
·         Sugary Drinks
·         Excessive Caffeine
·         Refined and Sugary Foods
·         Trans Fat – fried foods, margarine, baked goods, processed snack foods
·         In some cases, Dairy

Ok, now what should increase to provide our brains with the right fuel?
·         Omega 3 Fatty Acids – oily fish (salmon, trout, and mackerel), walnuts, flax, olive oil, eggs, and dark leafy greens
·         Whole Grains (in some cases people feel better leaving these out as well)
·         Fruits and Vegetables
·         Organic and Home Prepared Foods are best!

     I hope that I have given you some “food for thought” in this entry.  If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below in the comments! 


Dr. Axe: The Gut-Brain Connection:
Greatist: How Eating Fat Can Make You Smarter:
Harvard Health: Nutritional Psychiatry:
Mental Health America: Healthy Diet:
Mental Health Foundation: Diet and Mental Health:
Psychology Today: The Gut-Brain Connection:
Safe Harbor: The Role of Diet in Mental Health:
Wellness Mama: Can Your Food Affect Mental Health?:

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     Welcome to Bat Lady Herbals.  I have been fascinated by herbs and various herbal uses for quite a few years now.  Plants are amazing t...