Lately, I have been more conscious about what I feed myself and how it affects how I feel. A lot of the times when we talk about mental health we think about the social, economic, psychological and biological factors. But not often do we think about nutrition. Our second brain is in our gut, the lining of our stomach contains several neurotransmitters including serotonin which is often prescribed as an anti-depressant commonly known as SSRIs. It’s no surprise when we think about our common expressions such as “I feel butterflies in my stomach” to denote anxiety or nervousness. We have always known on some level that our stomach communicates with our brains.
Nutritional therapies are now being advocated through giving patients daily supplements which has been proven to help reduce symptoms. Research shows that most people suffering from mental health problems are deficient in the many vitamins, minerals and omega-3-fatty acids that our brain’s need to function to its optimal level (Lakhan and Vieira 2008). Common deficiencies are found in:
Magnesium, a nutrient that is key for neurotransmitter and normal hormonal function, low levels associated with depression, headaches, muscle cramps, psychosis and irritability (Wacker and Parisi 1968).
How to get it: Eating whole wheat, leafy greens like spinach and kale, nuts and seeds like cashew and peanuts.
Omega-3 fatty acids which help with the functioning of our central nervous system, when our levels are low it has been linked with low mood and poor cognition (Deacon, Kettle, Hayes, Dennis, Tucci 2017).
How to get it: Eating roasted soy bean, salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds.
Zinc, is essential to our neural functioning and cellular process, low levels have been linked to anxiety, depression and psychosis (Petrilli, Kleinhaus, Joe, Getz, Johnson and Malaspina (2017)
How to get it: Lamb, Pumpkin seeds, grass fed beef and cocoa powder
In addition, as a woman and for the women reading this our hormones can have a big effect on our mood and mental health. Many women suffer from some form of hormonal imbalance whether that be PMS (premenstrual syndrome)and PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), experiencing very long or short cycles which really have a strong effect on our mood. Most of the time if you go the doctors the only solution they have is the pill. However, what I have been learning lately is a lot of these symptoms can be kept under control through our diet. Even if your predisposed genetically to a certain condition, the great thing is that research in epigenetics is showing us that every seven years we cell regenerate therefore theoretically we can change of faulty cells through nutrition (Vitti 2013).
In addition, Alisa Vitti’s book Womancode (highly recommend) introduced me to the concept of cycle syncing. Which basically mean that you’re in tune with what’s happening cycle and the symptoms you’re experiencing. Therefore, you are aware of what nutrients our body needs. At different times of the month our food needs different nutrients.
These are a few general tips of how to create hormonal harmony:
1. Eat more whole grains and less refined sugars.
2. Eat more healthy fats. You can get this from avocados, fatty fish and dark chocolate.
3. Don’t over or under eat. As it has a big effect on insulin production and reduce insulin sensitivity.
4. Consume a diet high in fiber: Studies have found that it increases insulin sensitivity and stimulates the production of hormones that make you feel full and satisfied
5. Eat iron-rich foods such as lean meats. Such as skinless chicken and turkey. This helps keep your iron levels a float and replace the blood you’ve lost.
6. Eat a rainbow variety of fruits and vegetables but specifically focus on leafy greens. Such as kale, turnip greens or Swiss chard which are high in iron and B vitamins.
In summary it’s all about having a holistic view of our health, mental health just like physical doesn’t occur in isolation. I know it’s not easy to change the way we eat; the taste of refined carbs isn’t something I can fully abandon just yet. But just those small changes and being more observant about what we eat, I believe can empower us to feel more in control of our health.
Deacon, G., Kettle, C., Hayes, D., Dennis, C., & Tucci, J. (2017). Omega3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the treatment of depression. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 57(1), 212–223.
Lakhan, S. E., & Vieira, K. F. (2008). Nutritional therapies for mental disorders. Nutrition journal, 7(1), 2.
Petrilli, M. A., Kranz, T. M., Kleinhaus, K., Joe, P., Getz, M., Johnson, P., … Malaspina, D. (2017). The Emerging Role for Zinc in Depression and Psychosis. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 8, 414.
Vitti, A. (2013). Womancode. Hay House, Inc.
Wacker, W. E., & Parisi, A. F. (1968). Magnesium metabolism. New England Journal of Medicine, 278(13), 712–717.