Fatty Food Consumption Could Increase Mental Illness Risk, Research Says
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Put down that fast food burger. Your brain will thank you.
We already know that a high-fat diet will lead to obesity, heart problems, diabetes, and a host of other physical health issues, but a new study suggests that fatty food consumption is linked to our mental health as well. Research published in the Biological Psychiatry journal suggests that the more high-fat foods we eat, the more likely the composition of our gut bacteria will change. Eventually, severe changes in gut bacteria, even in the absence of obesity, will increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders.
"This paper suggests that high-fat diets impair brain health, in part by disrupting the symbiotic relationship between humans and the microorganisms that occupy our gastrointestinal tracks,” said John Krystal, an author of the study and professor at Yale University.
Scientists found that mice, when given high-fat diets, will also display memory problems, disruptions in normal behavior, and repetitive motions. Further research is necessary to secure these findings, scientists say, but it could lead to psychologists treating neurological disorders by analyzing our eating habits and the content of our gut bacteria.
Mental illness: is there really a global epidemic?
There are dozens of different kinds of mental illness, from common disorders that affect tens of millions of people such as depression and anxiety, to rarer afflictions like paraphilia (sexual compulsion) and trichotillomania (a compulsion to remove hair).
The “bible” of mental illness, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (its fifth iteration, DSM-5, was published in 2013), groups them under about 20 subheadings* (see below).
Mental illness is not sadness, insanity or rage (though it can involve these in some of its forms) it is not binary or exclusive, but complex and universal.
Another way to think of it is as a spectrum, a continuum that we all sit on. At one end is mental health, where we are thriving, fulfilled and at ease. In the middle reaches, people can be described as coping, surviving or struggling. At the far end sit the range of mental illnesses. Most us move back and forth along this line our entire lives.
High-strength cannabis increases risk of mental health problems
Frequent cannabis use and high-strength varieties are likely to increase the chance of mental health problems among users, according to researchers behind the largest study of its kind.
Experts have previously flagged a link between cannabis use and psychosis, particularly among vulnerable people with heavy use of the drug. Now research suggests the potency of the cannabis is also important, with patterns in cannabis use linked to how often new cases of psychotic disorders arise in different cities.
The study estimated that 30% of first-time cases of psychotic disorders in south London, and half of those in Amsterdam, could be avoided if high-potency cannabis was not available. The team says that equates to about 60 fewer cases per year in south London.
“If you are a psychologist like me who works in this catchment area and sees first-episode psychosis patients, this has a significant impact at the level of services and, I would also argue, family and society,” said Dr Marta Di Forti, the lead author of the research, from King’s College London.
High-strength cannabis, such as skunk, has levels of the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) above 10%. According to data released last year, 94% of police cannabis seizures in the UK were of high-strength varieties. These varieties also contain very little cannabidiol (CBD), a substance that might protect against psychosis.
Writing in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, Di Forti and an international team of researchers report how they studied patient data – including cannabis use – collected between mid 2010 and mid 2015 for 901 adults under the age of 65 who arrived at mental health services in one of 10 locations in Europe, or one in Brazil, and received their first diagnosis of a psychotic disorder that was not down to, for example, brain tumours or acute drug use.
For comparison, the team asked more than 1,200 healthy individuals from across the same areas about their cannabis use. The strength of cannabis was estimated from the name individuals gave to the drug.
After taking into account factors including drinking, education and use of other drugs such as ketamine, the team found those with a psychotic disorder were more likely to have used cannabis at some point in their life than those without the condition.
Frequency of use was also highlighted by researchers: the chances of having a psychotic disorder were 40% greater among those who used the drug more than once a week compared with those who rarely, if ever, used it, while the chances of having a psychotic disorder were more than three times greater among those who used cannabis daily compared with those who rarely if ever used it.
What is more, daily users of high potency cannabis were more likely to have a psychotic disorder, compared with never-users, than those who used low-potency cannabis every day.
The biggest link between daily cannabis use and having a psychotic disorder was in Amsterdam, where the chances were seven times higher than for those who had never used the drug: almost all cannabis sold in “coffee shops” in Amsterdam is high-strength, while varieties with 67% THC have been found in the Netherlands. Incidences of psychosis were higher in Amsterdam than most other locations studied, with only south London surpassing it.
“Daily use of high-potency cannabis and how this varies across Europe explains some of the striking variations we have measured in the incidence of psychotic disorder,” said Di Forti.
However, she noted that not all daily users of high-potency cannabis develop a psychotic disorder, meaning it is important to work out who is most vulnerable, and that other factors are also at play.
The study had limitations because it relied on self-reported use of cannabis and only small numbers of participants were involved at each site. Also, THC and CBD content of the cannabis was not directly measured while the results might, at least in part, be down to those at greater risk of psychosis being more likely to use cannabis.
Prof Sir Robin Murray, another author of the study from King’s College London, said the study has implications for the debate on whether cannabis should be legalised.
“If you are going to legalise cannabis, unless you want to pay for more a lot more psychiatric beds and a lot more psychiatrists, then you need to devise a system where you would legalise in a way that wouldn’t increase the consumption and increase the potency,” he said.
Dr Adrian James, the registrar of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “A good drugs strategy should focus on preventing and reducing harm, not on diverting people to the criminal justice system,” adding that well-provisioned and staffed addiction services needed to be restored.
A look at omega-3
Other psychologists are exploring the role of omega-3 fatty acids. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties and effects on dopamine and serotonin transmission, omega-3 has a role in brain development and functioning, with deficiencies linked to mental health problems, says Mary A. Fristad, PhD, of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Fristad is studying the use of omega-3 in conjunction with an evidence-based intervention she developed, called psychoeducational psychotherapy. In a pilot randomized controlled trial funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, Fristad and colleagues assigned 72 depressed 7- to 14-year-olds to receive 12 weeks of omega-3 alone, omega-3 plus psychotherapy, psychotherapy plus placebo or just a placebo.
Seventy-seven percent of those who received psychotherapy and omega-3 achieved remission, compared with 56 percent of those who received a placebo. While children in all four groups showed improvement during the study, children whose mothers had histories of depression and children who had become depressed with fewer social stressors fared better with any of the active treatments than with the placebo (Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, Online, 2016).
"What we demonstrated was that children with what appears to be endogenous, versus situational, depression required an active treatment," says Fristad. "Psychotherapy worked omega-3 worked their combination worked the best."
In another NIMH-funded examination of the same sample, Fristad and colleagues looked at the intervention's effect on co-occurring behavioral problems. The children who received omega-3, whether on its own or in conjunction with psychotherapy, saw significant improvements in hyperactivity and impulsivity compared with those who received placebos on their own or with psychotherapy, as well as smaller improvements in inattention, disruptive behavior and overall behavior problems (Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, Vol. 45, No. 5, 2016).
Now, Fristad hopes to continue the research with larger sample sizes. "We really need more science wrapped around this," she says.
To watch a TEDx talk on the role of nutrition and mental health given by clinical psychologist Julia Rucklidge, PhD, go to YouTube and search for "Julia Rucklidge."
16 Mood-Boosting Foods to Help You Feel Your Best
We’ve looked at eight nutrients that can be helpful to your mental health and happiness. And we now know that most of the time, the best source of nutrients isn’t pills — it’s food!
So if you want to feel your best, do you know which foods ARE the best?
Here are 16 of the top mood-boosting foods:
Berries are a favorite antioxidant-containing food for many reasons. One of which is because they help make your brain happy. Studies have shown that the flavonoids in blueberries can improve your mood.
Avocados are rich in B vitamins — particularly vitamin B6. And they’re a rich source of folate. One avocado provides around one-third of your daily folate needs. And when it comes to magnesium, one avocado provides around 15% of your daily needs.
Walnuts have many brain-protective compounds, such as vitamin E, folate, antioxidant polyphenols. They also contain omega-3 fats, which have been shown to improve mood.
Chocolate’s remarkable effects on human mood are no secret. And now, we are beginning to understand why.
So why is chocolate considered one of the top mood-boosting foods? For one thing, it contains phenethylamine, which triggers the release of pleasurable endorphins. When you become infatuated or fall in love, the brain releases phenethylamine. It also potentiates the action of dopamine, a neurochemical associated with sexual arousal and pleasure.
Another substance found in chocolate is anandamide. (Anandamide comes from the Sanskrit word “ananda,” which means peaceful bliss). This fatty substance is naturally made in the brain. Pharmacologists at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego have isolated anandamide from chocolate. It binds to the same receptor sites in the brain as cannabinoids like THC — the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana. As a result, it produces feelings of elation and exhilaration. (If this becomes more widely known, will they make chocolate illegal?)
As if that weren’t enough, chocolate also contains polyphenols, which have been shown to have a positive impact on mood. This has led researchers to suggest they be studied more for their role in depression therapies. Darker chocolate contains more polyphenols.
(Sadly, some of our chocolate today comes from unsustainable and exploitative conditions. For more on the chocolate-slavery connection, and how to find ethical options, check out this article.)
5) Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
Lion’s Mane mushrooms have the remarkable ability to synthesize the peptide “nerve growth factor” (NGF). NGF is necessary for the growth and survival of brain neurons, and it contributes to mood improvement. It may also reduce your risk of depression.
For more on the health benefits of this mood-boosting food and other medicinal mushrooms, click here.
6) Green Tea
While technically a drink, green tea deserves a spot on the list of mood-boosting foods. Green tea has many benefits. Research has linked it to lower rates of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and many other ailments.
One type of green tea, matcha, is a particularly rich source of the amino acid L-theanine, which can help you to relax and maintain a calm demeanor. (Here are six science-backed reasons to drink matcha.)
7) Brazil Nuts
Low dietary selenium has been shown to increase the risk of depressive disorders. And researchers suggest that selenium-rich foods could be beneficial for primary prevention.
Did you know that a single Brazil nut can provide twice your daily selenium needs? Because they are such a potent source of selenium, it’s usually recommended not to eat more than four or five Brazil nuts per day to make sure you don’t get a selenium overdose!
Probiotics are the “good bacteria” in your gut. They produce serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. No wonder probiotics have been shown to improve depression.
Fermented foods, such as tempeh, miso, natto, and sauerkraut, support healthy gut bacteria. (For more on how to make the best use of probiotics, click here.)
9) Dark Leafy Greens
The term “folic” comes from the Latin word folium, which means leaf. Why am I telling you this? Because dark, leafy green vegetables are one of the best places to find folate! They’re also rich in magnesium, which can help reduce anxiety and depression.
To prevent deficiency, many nutrition experts suggest eating about 400 mcg of folate per day. One cup of cooked lentils can provide around 90% of this amount — and might help to prevent depression.
Chickpeas contain folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, fiber, and phosphorus. And a single cup of chickpeas provides over 50% of the daily value for vitamin B6.
Broccoli is rich in chromium, which can increase your body’s levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and melatonin. Because chromium works directly with mood regulators, it has been found to be an effective treatment for depression.
Quinoa is a complex carbohydrate. Because it’s rich in protein and fiber, it can help stabilize blood sugar levels. It also contains B vitamins, magnesium, iron, and amino acids that contribute to the production of serotonin. (And low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression.)
A 2008 study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that low sodium, high potassium diets had a positive impact on mood.
Though there is no RDA for potassium, it’s often recommended that you get around 1600-2000 mg per day. One banana can provide over 450 mg. Bananas are also rich in vitamin B6, which your body needs to synthesize serotonin.
Zucchini is high in mood-boosting folate, fiber, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. Want to increase your fiber intake? Try eating zucchini with its skin left on.
Coffee is well-known for providing a happy feeling after you drink it. That’s one reason it’s such a popular way for many people to start their morning.
In 2015, researchers reviewed all the available research on the consumption of coffee and tea and risk for depression. In total, they looked at 346,913 individuals and 8,146 cases of depression. What did they find? There was a peak protective effect against depression for those who drank around 400 mL/day of coffee (just over 1 ½ cups).
Why could this be? The caffeine in coffee stimulates dopamine. And dopamine is the neurotransmitter that produces the feeling of euphoria.
Coffee is also a vasodilator, which means it causes your blood vessels to expand. This is good for your circulation. And it has a particularly positive effect on your brain — and perhaps, your mood. In addition, coffee is the #1 source of antioxidants in the American diet — something your brain definitely won’t complain about getting. (For more about the benefits of coffee, check out this article.)
Does Diet Replace Medicine?
You should always talk to your doctor before stopping or taking less of any medication you're on.
"No matter where you are on the spectrum of mental health, food is an essential part of your treatment plan," Ramsey says. "If you are on medications, they are going to work better if you are eating a brain-healthy diet of nutrient-dense foods."
Ramsey recommends that you talk to your doctor about what you should eat -- not just what you shouldn't. He hopes that one day a simple 5-minute food assessment will become part of every psychiatric evaluation.
Nutritionists like the idea.
"More psychiatrists need to recognize the nutrition-mental health connection," says Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, who is registered by the International Organization of Nutritional Consultants. "We can have so much power over our mental health using food and nutrients."
Felice Jacka, president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry (ISNPR) and Associate Professor at Deakin University, Australia.
Drew Ramsey, MD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, inventor of the Brain Food Scale, and co-founder of National Kale Day.
Roxanne Sukol, MD, preventive medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute.
Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, ROHP, registered nutritionist and author of The Probiotic Promise.
Sarris J. The Lancet Psychiatry, May 2015.
Logan AC. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, July 24, 2014.
CDC website: "Mental Health Basics."
National Alliance on Mental Illness: "Mental Illness Facts and Numbers."
Gomez-Pinilla F. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, November 2013.
Diet and epigenetics
A number of innovative studies are pointing to the exciting possibility that the effects of diet on mental health can be transmitted across generations. The results of these studies indicate the importance of dietary components in influencing epigenetic events — that is, non-genetic events, such as DNA methylation, transcriptional activation, translational control and post-translational modifications that cause a potentially heritable phenotypic change — and, thus, their potential for disease modulation. The results of a longitudinal study that included more than 100 years of birth, death, health and genealogical records of 300 Swedish families in an isolated village showed that an individual’s risk for diabetes and early death was increased if their paternal grandparents grew up in times of food abundance rather than times of food shortage 164 . Although the molecular mechanisms for the influence of diet on epigenetics are unknown, it is known that the BDNF system is particularly susceptible to epigenetic modifications that influence cognitive function 127 . Chromatin modifications at specific BDNF promoters determine the differential expression of discrete BDNF splice variants. Such modifications have been observed in Alzheimer’s disease 128 and can also be elicited by particular antidepressant drugs 73 . Accordingly, it is likely that the various BDNF splice variants have differential effects on neuronal plasticity and cognition (see REF. 65 for a review). Neural activity dissociates methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 ( MECP2 ) from its latent location at BDNF promoter III, enabling transcription of BDNF 129 . A recent study in a rodent model of depression demonstrated that depressive manifestations and subsequent antidepressant treatment are associated with sustained changes in histone acetylation and methylation at BDNF promoter III 73 .
These studies represent a starting point for understanding how intracellular signalling that is triggered by lifestyle factors can promote lasting changes in DNA function in the brain and in cognitive capacity. Silent information regulator 2 ( SIRT2 ), a member of the sirtuin protein family, has emerged as an important modulator of genomic stability and cellular homeostasis that seems to act by silencing the function of specific genes. A diet that is high in saturated fat reduces the expression of SIRT2 in the rat hippocampus 90 , whereas a diet that is high in omega-3 fatty acids has the opposite effect 2 . Although the mechanisms that are involved in the regulation of SIRT2 by dietary factors require further investigation, the fact that energy metabolism is involved in the modulation of SIRT2 (as with BDNF) can provide a link for the influence of dietary factors on long-term genomic stability. Interestingly, a recent study in humans examined the association between SIRT1 (homologous to the rat Sirt2 gene) gene polymorphisms and cognition 130 . In this study, 1,245 inhabitants of Leiden (in the Netherlands) who were at least 85 years old were genotyped for 5 SIRT1 polymorphisms during a period of 4.4 years. Those who were homozygous for one of the polymorphisms that affected the SIRT1 promoter region showed better preservation on all measurements of cognitive function than the others. Findings that SIRT2 protein is present in rodent hippocampal tissue 2 and that SIRT2 function is involved in the maintenance of energy homeostasis could provide clues to how SIRT1 might relate to cognitive function.
Worldwide Increase in Mental Health Problems
This article discusses the reasons for the unprecedented rise in mental disorders across the globe and key factors to optimize your mental health.
Depression is a pervasive health issue today. According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 10 American adults report some form of depression.1 Eleven percent of the US population over the age of 12 is on antidepressant medication.2
Just two years ago, Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, discussed how a shocking 46 percent of Americans fit a diagnosis for one form of mental illness or another.3 This problem is not limited to the United States, however.
In fact, according to a recent study published in The Lancet,4 mental disorders and substance abuse combined were the leading cause of non-fatal illness worldwide in 2010, contributing nearly 23 percent of the total global disease burden!
Data for the study was obtained from the 2010 Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study,5 which includes data from 187 countries. Depressive disorders were the most common, followed by anxiety disorders, drug use disorders, and schizophrenia.
Mental Health Problems on the Rise Across the Globe
The analysis6 also found that mental disorders and substance use disorders were the fifth leading cause of death and disease worldwide. Only China, North Korea, Japan and Nigeria had a statistically lower burden of death and disease from mental disorders and substance abuse. As reported in the featured article:7
“The authors say that this difference in non-fatal illness compared with the cause of death and disease is supported by the fact that mental and substance use disorders caused a low death rate in 2010 at 232,000, relative to the overall illness they caused.”
In all, mental and substance use disorders were responsible for higher global death and illness rates than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, diabetes, and car accidents. Females over the age of 14 had a higher risk of death and disease from mental disorders compared to males.
Males, on the other hand, had a higher risk of death and disease from drug and alcohol dependence across all age groups. According to the authors:8
“Despite the apparently small contribution of years of life lost to premature mortality—with deaths in people with mental disorders coded to the physical cause of death and suicide coded to the category of injuries under self-harm—our findings show the striking and growing challenge that these disorders pose for health systems in developed and developing regions.
In view of the magnitude of their contribution, improvement in population health is only possible if countries make the prevention and treatment of mental and substance use disorders a public health priority.”
This overall trend of rising mental disorders and drug abuse can also be seen in a 2010 US government survey9 in which 1 in 10 American children was found to have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—a 22 percent increase from 2003.
A whopping 48.4 million prescriptions for ADHD stimulants were written in 2011 in the US,10 a 39 percent jump from 2007. Meanwhile, emergency room visits due to adverse reactions to such drugs rose by more than 400 percent between 2005 and 2011.
What’s Causing This Rise in Worldwide Mental Health Disturbances?
While I’m sure there are many contributing causes, from impoverished circumstances and poor health to poorly managed day-to-day stress and high-tension due to regional wars and strife just to name a few, I also think it’s important to consider massive recent shifts in food choices throughout the world.
Countries across the globe have shifted to far more industrialized processed and devitalized foods that rely heavily on the use of genetically engineered corn and soy. This denatured Western diet has spread its pernicious influence into the developing world as well.
I simply cannot overstate the importance of your food choices when it comes to your mental health. In a very real sense, you have TWO brains—one in your head, and one in your gut—both of which are created from the same tissue during fetal development.
These two systems are connected via the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem down to your abdomen. It is now well established that the vagus nerve is the primary route your gut bacteria use to transmit information to your brain.
Maintaining optimal gut health is therefore paramount when trying to address your mental state. In this regard, the modern “Western” diet has several things working against it:
Genetically modified foods can significantly alter your gut flora, thereby promoting pathogens while decimating the beneficial microbes necessary for optimal mental and physical health
Glyphosate—the most widely used herbicide on food crops in the world with nearly ONE BILLION pounds applied every year—has been shown to cause both nutritional deficiencies, especially minerals (which are critical for brain function), and systemic toxicity.
According to the researchers, glyphosate is possibly the most important factor in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions, and this includes mental health disorders such as depression. Dr. Don Huber believes it is far more toxic than DDT
High-fructose diets also feed pathogens in your gut, allowing them to overtake beneficial bacteria. Furthermore, sugar suppresses activity of a key growth hormone in your brain called BDNF. BDNF levels are critically low in both depression and schizophrenia.
Sugar consumption also triggers a cascade of chemical reactions in your body that promote chronic inflammation. In the long term, inflammation disrupts the normal functioning of your immune system, and wreaks havoc on your brain. Last but not least, sugar (particularly fructose) and grains contribute to insulin and leptin resistance and impaired signaling, which also play a significant role in your mental health
Artificial food ingredients, the artificial sweetener aspartame in particular, can wreak havoc with your brain function. Both depression and panic attacks are indeed known potential side effects of aspartame consumption
The Gut-Brain Connection Will Profoundly Influence Your Mental Health
The impact of your microflora on your brain function was recently reconfirmed by UCLA researchers who, in a proof-of-concept study,11 found that probiotics (beneficial bacteria) indeed altered the brain function in the participants. As reported by UCLA:12
“Researchers have known that the brain sends signals to your gut, which is why stress and other emotions can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms. This study shows what has been suspected but until now had been proved only in animal studies: that signals travel the opposite way as well. ‘Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut,’ [Dr. Kirsten] Tillisch said. ‘Our study shows that the gut–brain connection is a two-way street.'”
Similarly, as explained by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, a medical doctor with a postgraduate degree in neurology, toxicity in your gut can flow throughout your body and into your brain, where it can cause symptoms of autism, ADHD, depression, schizophrenia and a whole host of other mental and behavioral disorders. With this in mind, it should be crystal clear that nourishing your gut flora is extremely important from infancy into old age. To do so, I recommend the following strategies:
Avoid processed, refined foods in your diet.
Eat traditionally fermented, unpasteurized foods: Fermented foods are the best route to optimal digestive health, as long as you eat the traditionally made, unpasteurized versions. Some of the beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods are also excellent chelators of heavy metals and pesticides, which will also have a beneficial health effect by reducing your toxic load. Healthy choices include:
Lassi (an Indian yoghurt drink, traditionally enjoyed before dinner)
Fermented milk, such as kefir
Natto (fermented soy)
Ideally, you want to eat a variety of fermented foods to maximize the variety of bacteria you’re consuming. Fermented vegetables, which are one of my new passions, are an excellent way to supply beneficial bacteria back into our gut. And, unlike some other fermented foods, they tend to be palatable, if not downright delicious, to most people.
As an added bonus, they can also a great source of vitamin K2 if you ferment your own using the proper starter culture. We tested samples of high-quality fermented organic vegetables made a specific starter culture, and a typical serving (about two to three ounces) contained not only 10 trillion beneficial bacteria, it also had 500 mcg of vitamin K2, which we now know is a vital co-nutrient to both vitamin D and calcium. Most high-quality probiotic supplements will only supply you with a fraction of the beneficial bacteria found in such homemade fermented veggies, so it’s your most economical route to optimal gut health as well.
Take a high-quality probiotic supplement. Although I’m not a major proponent of taking many supplements (as I believe the majority of your nutrients need to come from food), probiotics is an exception if you don’t eat fermented foods on a regular basis.
Things to Avoid to Protect Your Gut Flora
A variety of lifestyle factors can hinder optimal gut health, so as a general rule, it would be wise to avoid the following:
Antibiotics, unless absolutely necessary (and when you do, make sure to reseed your gut with fermented foods and/or a probiotic supplement)
Conventionally-raised meats and other animal products, as CAFO animals are routinely fed low-dose antibiotics, plus genetically engineered grains, which have also been implicated in the destruction of gut flora
Processed foods (as the excessive sugars, along with otherwise “dead” nutrients, feed pathogenic bacteria)
Chlorinated and/or fluoridated water
There’s a Strong Link Between Sugar Consumption and Mental Disorders
There’s plenty of research showing the intimate link between high sugar consumption and mental and behavioral problems. Entire books have been written on this topic, such as William Duffy’s book, Sugar Blues. I will only include a few examples here.
Most recently, preliminary findings presented at the 65th annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology showed that drinking sweetened beverages―whether they’re sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners—is associated with an increased risk of depression. Over the course of a decade, those who drank more than four cans or glasses of diet soda or other artificially sweetened beverages had a nearly 30 percent higher risk of depression compared to those who did not consume diet drinks. Regular soda drinkers had a 22 percent increased risk.
As reported by WebMD:13 “Researchers say the findings suggest that cutting down on sweetened drinks or replacing them entirely with non-sweetened beverages may help lower depression risk.”
In 2004, noted British psychiatric researcher Malcolm Peet published a provocative cross-cultural analysis of the relationship between diet and mental illness.14 His primary finding was a strong link between high sugar consumption and the risk of both depression and schizophrenia. Keep in mind that “sugar” refers not only to refined sugar, but to many other sources as well, including high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and grains, which break down into sugar in your body. In fact, the evidence15, 16 suggesting that gluten sensitivity may be at the root of a number of neurological and psychiatric conditions is also quite compelling…
“A higher national dietary intake of refined sugar and dairy products predicted a worse 2-year outcome of schizophrenia.17 A high national prevalence of depression was predicted by a low dietary intake of fish and seafood. The dietary predictors of… prevalence of depression are similar to those that predict illnesses such as coronary heart disease and diabetes, which are more common in people with mental health problems and in which nutritional approaches are widely recommended. Dietary intervention studies are indicated in schizophrenia and depression.”
One of the key predictors of heart disease and diabetes is in fact chronic inflammation, which, as Peet mentions, is also associated with poor mental health. Sugar consumption is a primary driver of chronic inflammation in your body, so consuming excessive amounts of sugar can truly set off an avalanche of negative health events – both mental and physical. Following my recently revised nutrition plan is a simple way to automatically reduce your intake of sugar from all sources. As mentioned earlier, grains turn into sugar in your body and therefore must be accounted for. Beyond that, wheat and other grains also contain a variety of highly pro-inflammatory compounds that, in and of themselves, can contribute to mental health problems.
Another study published in the International Breastfeeding Journal18 found that inflammation may be more than just another risk factor. It may in fact be THE risk factor that underlies all others… According to the researchers:
“The old paradigm described inflammation as simply one of many risk factors for depression. The new paradigm is based on more recent research that has indicated that physical and psychological stressors increase inflammation. These recent studies constitute an important shift in the depression paradigm: inflammation is not simply a risk factor it is the risk factor that underlies all the others. Moreover, inflammation explains why psychosocial, behavioral and physical risk factors increase the risk of depression.”
Key Factors to Optimize Your Mental Health
There’s no doubt in my mind that radically reducing or eliminating all forms of sugar and artificial sweeteners from your diet is a crucial step to prevent and/or address depression and other mental health problems. Simultaneously, you need to address your gut, and take steps to reseed your gut with beneficial microbes (probiotics) as delineated above.
Quite simply, if you fail to address the root of the problem you could be left floundering and struggling with ineffective and potentially toxic band-aids, such as antidepressants, for a long time. Your diet does play a huge part in your mental health, so please don’t ignore the impact it may be having. Here are six additional strategies that can help you even further:
Exercise – If you have depression, or even if you just feel down from time to time, exercise is a MUST. The research is overwhelmingly positive in this area, with studies confirming that physical exercise is at least as good as antidepressants for helping people who are depressed. One of the primary ways it does this is by increasing the level of endorphins, the “feel good” hormones, in your brain. It also helps to normalize your insulin and leptin signaling.
Eat a healthy diet – A factor that cannot be overlooked is your diet. Foods have an immense impact on your mood and ability to cope and be happy, and eating whole foods as described in my nutrition plan will best support your mental health. Avoiding sugar and grains will help normalize your insulin and leptin levels, and eliminating artificial sweeteners will eliminate your chances of suffering its toxic effects.
Optimize your gut health — Fermented foods, such as fermented vegetables are also important for optimal mental health, as they are key for optimizing your gut health. Many fail to realize that your gut is literally your second brain, and can significantly influence your mind, mood, and behavior. Your gut actually produces more mood-boosting serotonin than your brain does.
Support optimal brain functioning with essential fats — I also strongly recommend supplementing your diet with a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fat, like krill oil. This may be the single most important nutrient to battle depression.
Get plenty of sunshine – Making sure you’re getting enough sunlight exposure to have healthy vitamin D levels is also a crucial factor in treating depression or keeping it at bay. One previous study found that people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who had normal levels. Vitamin D deficiency is actually more the norm than the exception, and has previously been implicated in both psychiatric and neurological disorders.
Address your stress — Depression is a very serious condition, however it is not a “disease.” Rather, it’s a sign that your body and your life are out of balance. This is so important to remember, because as soon as you start to view depression as an “illness,” you think you need to take a drug to fix it. In reality, all you need to do is return balance to your life, and one of the key ways to doing this is addressing stress.
Meditation or yoga can help. Sometimes all you need to do is get outside for a walk. But in addition to that, I also recommend using a system that can help you address emotional issues that you may not even be consciously aware of. For this, my favorite is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). However, if you have depression or serious stress, I believe it would be best to consult with a mental health professional who is also an EFT practitioner to guide you.
Healthy Diet, Healthy Brain: 15 Foods for Better Mental Health
The foods you eat can affect the health of your mind and body in a number of ways. Your diet can influence everything from your energy level to your body fat and even the appearance of your skin and hair. So it should come as no surprise that the foods you eat can also have an effect on your brain and mental health.
What Foods Are Good for the Brain and Mental Health?
The right diet can go a long way toward keeping your mind sharp. Certain foods are rich in vitamins and minerals, which have been shown to reduce stress, improve moods, increase oxygen flow to the brain and boost cognitive thinking and reasoning abilities.
So what kinds of foods can you eat to promote a sharper and healthier brain?
Blueberries may as well be called “brainberries.” They are rich in antioxidants and can reduce oxidative stress and improve learning capacity and motor skills.
A diet rich in lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits can help delay cognitive decline and decrease your risk of developing dementia by up to 23 percent.
Nuts are among the best foods you can eat for some added brain power. Almonds — with their high vitamin E and monounsaturated fats — are great for preventing cognitive decline and memory loss. Walnuts are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which can boost brain cell communication and growth. Pistachios are high in vitamin B6, which increases the amount of oxygen in the blood and makes the brain more active as a result.
Omega-3 fatty acids can help slow cognitive decline and have also been shown to help ward off depression. Salmon, lake trout, anchovies and sardines are all high in this type of fat.
Avocados are a good source of lutein, an ingredient related to improved cognition. The monounsaturated fats in avocados help to keep blood pressure levels in check, which is a key to preventing Alzheimer’s.
Coffee contains a high amount of brain-stimulating antioxidants, and studies have shown that regular coffee drinkers experience a decreased risk for dementia.
Research has shown that the probiotics found in Greek yogurt can prevent cognitive decline and age-related memory loss. And the vitamins and minerals found in Greek yogurt are good for relieving stress and enhancing brain energy.
Dieters often ditch the yolk of an egg, but experts recommend leaving it in if you’re hoping to sharpen your mind. The vitamins found in an egg yolk are crucial to supporting memory and increasing communication among brain cells.
Our brains love complex carbohydrates, which are found in high amounts in whole grain products such as oatmeal, barley and quinoa. The soluble fiber found in whole grains helps to clear arteries and improve oxygen flow to the brain, which can then help offset dementia.
The natural nitrates in beets are great for improving blood flow to the brain and enriching mental performance.
Great for both the mind and the body, broccoli is high in vitamin K and choline, two ingredients which have been shown to improve episodic memory performance.
Finally, a viable excuse to indulge. Flavonoids found in dark chocolate improve blood flow to the brain and can boost memory, attention span, reaction time, and problem-solving skills.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil contains powerful antioxidants called polyphenols that are instrumental in combating the toxic proteins that are known to cause Alzheimer’s. Extra virgin olive oil is also believed to improve learning and memory skills.
Green, Leafy Vegetables
Spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, collards, and Swiss chard have been shown by research to help keep dementia at bay and slow cognitive decline.
One of the main components of rosemary is carsonic acid, which helps to protect the brain from the chemicals linked to neurodegeneration, Alzheimer’s, and aging.
Diet Plans for Brain Power
Given all of the foods that carry brain-boosting abilities, what are some diets that utilize these foods?
A Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, olive oil, whole grains and fish.
The Zone diet encourages a heavy consumption of avocados, nuts and olive oil.
Avocados, nuts, fish and olive oil are all used liberally in the Ketogenic diet.
Many vegetarian diets allow for the consumption of fish and eggs to go along with all the vegetables, berries and nuts.
- South Beach
The South Beach diet allows for fish, nuts, vegetables and avocados.
Incorporate these foods into your meals to give yourself an entrée of health benefits with a side of brain power.
Author Bio: Guest blogger Lee Elliott is a writer from Raleigh, North Carolina. He likes running, mindfulness meditation, and hikes with his Yorkshire Terrier. You can find more of his articles here.
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Unrefined, whole grains eaten in moderation can help reduce the risk of heart disease. This impacts the brain because the heart is the center of all blood flow. When your heart is operating efficiently, your brain and the rest of the systems in your body can as well.
Buy fresh, 100% pomegranate juice from the store with no added ingredients to help boost brain health. Pomegranate is an excellent source of free-radical fighting antioxidants, however, eating the seeds isn&rsquot exactly an effective way to reap the benefits of this colorful fruit. Enjoy a small portion of this natural juice each day, instead.