With a whole new domain of Nutritional Psychiatry coming into picture, questions around food and its impact on our mental health have started surfacing. Nutritional psychiatry helps us understand how our body reacts and responds to certain types of food and diets. But why study the effects of diet on our psyche? Does our food actually affect our mind? Is there a mind gut connection ? How does the food and mood relation actually work ?
Effects of your diet on your mind.
Even when you are sleeping your brain is working, it is a fact that our control system should get premium fuel to amplify and sustain its functionality. When our diet is packed with food that induces inflammation, disturbs insulin regulation and promotes oxidative stress, our mental health takes a toll. An unhealthy diet leads to release of free radicals and destructive inflammatory cells that damage our brain. An inadequate diet causes fatigue, decreases our reaction time and weakens our decision making abilities.
Research shows that a diet with high refined sugar content leads to impaired brain functionality and is also shown to worsen the cases of emotional disorders, like anxiety and depression.
Conversely, when we feed our body with soulful, plant derived food that is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, we are protecting our brain from stress. It has been found that people who started eating “clean” had an improved, expanded concentration and attention span, they also felt less fatigued and more relaxed.
Is there actually a mind gut connection ?
The vagus nerve physically connects the brain and the gut. While digesting food, the gut neurons are triggered into releasing neurotransmitters like serotonin that mediate our mood. The brain cells also influence the gut flora that affects the absorption and digestion of our food. It has been found that the gut bacteria sways the mind’s physiological processes and mood through the neurochemicals they release.
So not just is the mind connected to the gut, they are interconnected.
How does the food and mood relation actually work ?
When compared to Western diets, research showed that the Mediterranean diet and Japanese diets are better for the mind. Western diets have increased your chances of having depression by 25% to 35%. A traditional Mediterranean or Japanese diet focuses a lot on eating free fruit and vegetables that are devoid of refined carbohydrates, processed fats and preservatives.It is shown that about 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin or also known as the ‘long term happiness hormone’ affects our sleep and appetite. It also mediates our mood and inhibits pain.
Eating junk and processed food deteriorates our brain cells and hampers our body’s protein production while destroying the existing protein structures. Hormones play a crucial role in our mood cycles. Unhealthy diet throws our hormones off balance. This imbalance sometimes leads to PCOS-like problems in females.
Amongst all the obvious physiological benefits of healthy lifestyles there are all the other positive psychological effects like surge in confidence, improved body image and boost in your energy.
So it is not only important to study nutrition from a psychiatric or research perspective, it is also important to understand your body and provide it with the food it needs so that it functions at its best both physically and mentally.