top of page

Mental Wellness: The relation between FOOD and MENTAL HEALTH

Introduction Eating a healthy and balanced diet has as many benefits for our mental health as it does for our physical health. The relationship between diet and mental health is quite complex. Healthier dietary patterns can reduce the risk of depression and anxiety. Sticking to healthy meals and diet lowers your chances of having mood swings and improves your ability to be alert and focused. It helps you think clearly and improves your attention span. How does food impacts mental health? A healthy diet is crucial for mental health. The brain regulates most of the body's vital functions and requires a steady fuel supply. Foods with the correct nutrients, vitamins, and sources of proteins form the building blocks for the neurotransmitters, cellular structures, and enzymes in the brain. The fuel results from digested food, meaning that metabolizing nutrients move into the bloodstream. The food you consume is related to the structure and function of the brain and the working of the mind. Several studies have shown that diets that contain too many refined sugars are poisonous to the brain. Because of this high level of simple sugar can stress the pancreas, and insulin resistance is activated. As a result, the counter-reactive surge of autonomic neurotransmitters like cortisol and glucagon gets stimulated, which causes increased anxiety, irritability, and hunger. They also activate oxidative and inflammatory stress, which worsens the symptoms of depression and other disorders associated with mood. Also, studies have found a link between what people eat and their risk of mental illness. Mental health is not specifically about having a generally healthy or unhealthy diet, but specific nutrients are sometimes involved.

Some older adults diagnosed with depression had decreased levels of vitamins B12, B6, and folate in the year preceding their diagnosis. Individuals with depression and schizophrenia had lower folate levels than the general population. The correlation could be related to the fact that these nutrients all act as antioxidants.

In daily life, chemical reactions in your body can split oxygen molecules into atoms with unpaired electrons (free radicals). Without a second electron, these free radicals are unstable, so they search other cells for electrons to pair. It puts your body under stress and can ultimately cause inflammation or further damage.

Antioxidants are molecules that fight that stress by handing over their electrons without becoming unstable themselves.

In correlation with mental health, inflammation by the inflammatory molecules may affect how chemicals get released in the brain. A diet rich in antioxidants can reduce depressive symptoms in people with major depressive disorder.

The link between diet and mental health, particularly emotions, comes from the cordial relationship between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract. The gastrointestinal tract houses several millions of bacteria that control the production of neurotransmitters (chemical substances that relay messages from the gut to the brain). Healthy feeding encourages the growth of good bacteria, therefore positively influencing the production of neurotransmitters. And regular consumption of junk food can cause inflammation which disrupts this production. Effective healthy neurotransmitters production causes the brain to receive loud and clear positive messages, which reflect your emotions.

Also, the effect of dietary patterns on the gut microbiome is another interesting explanation for how food may affect our mental well-being. Microbiome refers to millions of microbial organisms like viruses, bacteria, and archaea living in the human gut. The gut microbiome interacts with the brain via neural, and hormonal signaling pathways. Most depressive disorders in human beings have a connection to the alteration of the gut microbiome. In addition to exposure to antibiotics and genetic factors, diet determines the abundance and functionality of the gut microbiome.

And the intake of a diet rich in fibers, unsaturated fatty acids, and polyphenols can stimulate gut microbial taxa, and metabolize the food into anti-inflammatory metabolites.

Research has shown that the consumption of probiotics that target the guts by healthy persons can disrupt the brain's reaction to a task that needs emotional attention and can reduce symptoms of depression. It shows that the gut microbiome plays a significant role in accelerating emotion regulation or control in the human brain.

Simple steps toward maintaining a healthy relationship between diet and mental health include;

  • Stay hydrated: Dehydration affects the mood, causes loss of concentration, and energy levels reduction.

  • Maintain a healthy eating habit: Frequent eating can help regulate your blood sugar level, thereby shielding you from the feeling of tiredness and bad temper.

  • Eat meals containing the right balance of fats: The brain needs healthy amounts of fat to work effectively. Foods like oily fish, avocados, grapeseed oil, and seeds contain good fat.

  • Eat fewer fats found in processed foods.

  • Caffeine can affect your mood: Caffeine can cause sleep disorders, especially when consumed before bedtime, and make you anxious and irritable.

  • Maintain a healthy gut: How you feel affects your heart. It can speed up or slow down as determined by your mood. Fruits, probiotics, and vegetables are all healthy for the guts.

  • Eat more fruits, whole grains, and vegetables: Including these in your diet means more vitamins and minerals to your brain and body.

  • Include proteins in your every meal: It regulates your mood due to the presence of amino acids, which the brain uses for this function.

Conclusion A healthy diet can adequately improve mental health. Studies have shown that a healthy diet effectively eradicates symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is advisable to consume whole foods and meals rich in fiber, antioxidants, folate, vitamin D, magnesium, and fermented foods. Other ways of improving the mood as well as mental health include; regular exercise to boost self-esteem, concentration, and feeling. You can learn new skills, get proper sleep, and avoid illicit drugs.

References Owen L, Corfe B. The role of diet and nutrition on mental health and wellbeing. Proc Nutr Soc. 2017;76:425–6. Molendijk M, Molero P, Ortuño Sánchez-Pedreño F, Van der Does W, Angel Martínez-González M. Diet quality and depression risk: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. J Affect Disord. 2018;226:346–54. Deacon G, Kettle C, Hayes D, Dennis C, Tucci J. Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the treatment of depression. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017;57:212–23. Cui Y, Huang C, Momma H, Ren Z, Sugiyama S, Guan L, Niu K, Nagatomi R. Consumption of low-fat dairy, but not whole-fat dairy, is inversely associated with depressive symptoms in Japanese adults. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2017;52:847–53. Matsuoka YJ, Sawada N, Mimura M, Shikimoto R, Nozaki S, Hamazaki K, Uchitomi Y, Tsugane S. Dietary fish, n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid consumption, and depression risk: a population-based prospective cohort study. Transl Psychiatry. 2017;7:e1242


bottom of page