Nutrition and Mental Health

Food for Thought: The Link Between Mental Health and Nutrition

You are what you eat. No doubt, you’ve heard this saying before. And, while it’s unlikely that you’ll turn into the chocolate bar you just ate, the old saying has a bit of truth to it. When it comes to the food we eat, it’s important to remember that it has a real impact on many areas of our lives.

It’s easy to assume that food is only meant to serve a simple purpose: to fill our stomachs and provide us with energy. But, the truth of the matter is that food affects us in more ways than that. A healthy diet can help to improve our physical, emotional, and mental health. But, consuming food that isn’t healthy can negatively impact our health, both physically and mentally.

That’s correct — there’s a connection between mental health and nutrition.

Can a Poor Diet Cause Mental Illness?

In a word, yes. However, medical professionals and scientists are still researching the exact connection between nutrition and mental health. But, many scientists are certain that there’s at least some sort of link between the two. There are several reasons why professionals believe this connection exists. 

You can think of your diet as the type of fuel you feed to your brain. The food you eat can affect your mental health in many ways. Certain types of food can either intensify or bring about symptoms of mental health disorders. For example, foods and beverages that are high in sugar have been linked to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. ADHD is a mental health disorder that is characterized by hyperactivity and difficulty focusing. In cases like this, the foods people eat may have a somewhat direct correlation to their mental health.

Also, food can affect one’s overall mood. Since the systems within your body affect one another, what happens in one area of your body intertwines with and impacts what happens elsewhere. Simply put, what you eat goes into your digestive system. But, this has an impact on the neurons that flow throughout your brain and body.

To explain further, your brain produces a neurotransmitter called serotonin. This neurotransmitter, which you can think of as a “messenger chemical”, plays a role in sleep and appetite regulation. What you consume has an impact on the production of neurons and neurotransmitters in your body. So, when you consume harmful or unhealthy foods, this affects the production of serotonin. As a result, you may begin to experience sleep problems or disturbances in your appetite. As you might imagine, this can lead to changes in your emotions and your overall mood. That’s why it’s best to focus on the importance of a healthy diet.

Nutritional Psychiatry: A Closer Look at Nutrition and Diet

The study of food and mood (diet and mental health) is often referred to as nutritional psychiatry. Some also refer to this ideology as nutritional neuroscience. But, regardless of what you may call it, it’s important to realize that there is, in fact, a connection between what one eats and his or her mental well-being. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “consistent epidemiological evidence, particularly for depression, suggests an association between measures of diet quality and mental health”. In other words, your diet can be a contributing factor when it comes to the development of certain mental health disorders, including depression.

It’s important to note, however, that mental health disorders are both serious and complex. Depression disorder, anxiety disorder, ADHD, and all other mental illnesses are caused by much more than poor diets. Many other factors contribute to the development of these mental health disorders. So, it’s not likely that individuals who have poor eating habits will develop mental illness solely because of their diet. 

Even so, the fact that food has an at least partial connection to one’s mood and mentality, proves the importance of clean eating. With that being said, let’s discuss some of the food items you might consider avoiding or limiting in order to prevent any mood disturbances due to diet. Then, we will address some dietary options that can boost and encourage physical, emotional, and mental health.

Food Items That Contribute to Poor Mental Health

When it comes to the connection between mental health and nutrition, individuals should consider some specific truths. Firstly, remember that nutrition plays a major role in physical health. As a result, it can also have a massive impact on the way a person feels and behaves. What we consume has the ability to affect our energy levels, ability to focus, level of motivation, and much more. So, it is absolutely necessary to take care of our bodies by giving them the fuel that they need.

Here at Sana Lake Recovery Center, we know that each individual has different needs when it comes to mental and physical health. So, you should certainly speak with your physician and other medical professionals to find out what’s best for you as far as your diet is concerned. However, there is some general nutrition-related information to consider when it comes to taking care of your physical and mental health.

Having said this, here are some foods that you might avoid or simply limit, especially if you already have a diagnosis of a mental health disorder:

  • Red meat
  • Foods that are high in sugar
  • Large amounts of sodium
  • Excessive amounts of saturated fats

Again, it is certainly best to speak with your doctor about your diet. As we have mentioned, your diet is not the only thing that affects your mental health. But, it can definitely contribute to low moods or symptoms that are related to mental health disorders. So, it may be necessary to adjust your eating habits in order to improve your health in every area of your life!

Now that we’ve discussed some foods that you may need to consume less of, let’s talk about some dietary components that may prove to be beneficial to your health.

A Diet That Promotes Emotional, Physical, and Mental Health

If you’re not sure where to start as you seek to improve your diet, know that there are many options. The following foods can be thought of as “brain food” as most of them can improve your brain’s functionality and increase energy levels within the body.

  • Fish
  • Fruits
  • Beans
  • Olive oil
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Vitamin D-rich foods
  • Lean meat/protein (fish, chicken, etc.)

Taking care of your mental health is beneficial for many reasons. When your mind is healthy, the rest of your body can also become healthier. Also, mental health disorders can cause other difficulties to occur in your life. Believe it or not, this could include substance use disorder.

Dual Diagnosis: Mental Health and Substance Dependence

Once a person develops a mental health disorder, it’s possible that other challenges could arise. For instance, an individual who suffers from depression may begin self-medicating with alcohol use. Unfortunately, many people turn to alcohol and drug use in order to find relief from the symptoms of their mental health disorder. As a result of this substance use, people may develop a dependence on drugs or alcohol.

Chemical dependency is very serious and can cause negative effects on the lives of those who suffer from them. These effects are only intensified by the presence of a mental health disorder. 

When a person suffers from both substance dependence and mental illness, it means that he or she has co-occurring disorders. Professionals call this a dual diagnosis and it’s important that individuals receive treatment and care through a program that can treat both disorders.

Thankfully, many treatment facilities offer this kind of program. We certainly do here at Sana Lake. So, if you or someone you know needs help overcoming the effects of substance dependence and mental health challenges, please reach out to us right away.

Let Sana Lake Help Treat Mental Health Disorders in Your Life

As we discussed earlier, mental health is not solely influenced by diet. There are many other factors involved. Some mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are influenced by past experiences. Disorders such as anxiety or depression can occur because of the effects of stress or grief. So, it’s important to keep all of this in mind when it comes to getting treatment for mental health disorders. 

Here at Sana Lake Recovery Center, we strive to treat our members with excellence and understanding. We are aware of the fact that many of the individuals who come to our facility need individualized care. After all, everyone is different and has unique needs. We work to meet those needs and help members to live healthy lives once treatment is complete.

Whether you are dealing with mental illness or someone you know is struggling, we’re here to help. Just contact us to learn more about our services. Begin your journey to a healthier life today!

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28942748

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5360575/

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/10/09/768665411/changing-your-diet-can-help-tamp-down-depression-boost-mood

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738337/

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/09/food-mental-health

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/food-and-mood-is-there-a-connection

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MDDavid Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.

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