It is estimated that 15 million Americans suffer from depression. If you’re one of them, you may be surprised to know that diet plays an important role in mental health. So much so, that is has inspired an entire field of medicine called nutritional psychiatry.
The brain never gets a day off—it works 24/7—even when we’re sleeping. Which means it needs a constant supply of fuel. This “fuel” is food. What we eat directly affects our brain function, and ultimately, our mood. A major key to mental wellness lies at the end of our fork.
The Standard American Diet (appropriately referred to as SAD) is comprised of heavily processed foods that include chemical preservatives, low-quality animal products, artificial colors, and added sugars. Is it any wonder that a diet so artificial and nutrient deficient has been linked to poor memory function, hyperactive immune response, and inflammation—all of which contribute to depression?
The Gut-Brain Axis
There is a two-way information highway between the gut and the brain. It’s called the vagus nerve, and it’s best known for its effects on the gut. It explains why the gut and the brain are so closely linked in what is called the Gut-Brain Axis and why the gut is referred to as the “second brain”.
Inflammation in the gut causes inflammation in the brain leading to symptoms like depression and anxiety. What’s more is that 90% of the body's serotonin lies in the gut, as well as about 50% of the body's dopamine—the neurotransmitters responsible for keeping our mood balanced. If your gut is of whack, so is your brain.
Diagnoses of inflammatory bowel disease are rising worldwide, and so is the rate of depression. It used to be thought that depression and anxiety contributed to digestive disorders like IBS, Crohn’s disease, colitis, etc., but scientists are finding out that it may also be the other way around.
How to Decrease Inflammation in the Gut
Symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, and constipation are all frequently reported by depressive patients. These symptoms indicate systemic inflammation and are classified as psychiatric pretenders—meaning that they mimic symptoms associated with mental illness. This explains why depression has been called an inflammatory disorder.
You can take control of the signals your gut is sending to your brain. Here are 5 ways:
Avoid Inflammatory Foods
The further food is from its natural state, the more likely it is to trigger an inflammatory response. Removing all processed foods from the diet is advised, as well as the following: gluten, dairy, GMOs, sugar, and artificial sugar, and vegetable oils. There are more restrictive dietary protocols that you can follow for a period of time that recommend removing all grains (including corn), soy, caffeine, and alcohol. You can slowly reintroduce these one at a time to see which ones cause a negative reaction.
Choose Organic Whenever Possible
Non-organic foods contain pesticides and herbicides like glyphosate, which have been shown to cause endocrine disruption, birth defects, and damage DNA.Choosing organic not only means nourishing yourself with the healthiest and best-tasting foods, but also supporting the health of future generations and that of the planet.
Protect Against Deficiencies
Western diets are frequently found to lack the nutrients essential to a healthy mood. These include vitamin B12, magnesium, zinc, and essential fatty acids. You can get these through the foods you eat by consuming dark, leafy greens, pastured eggs, sprouted nuts and seeds, and oily fish like wild-caught salmon, mackerel, and sardines.
Restore Beneficial Gut Bacteria
The tube that runs from the mouth, all the way to the other end, has a lining that is one cell thick and those cells are very tightly linked. What happens when you have leaky gut (aka intestinal permeability) is that those tight junctions begin to separate. This allows food particles and bacteria to penetrate the intestinal wall and travel into the bloodstream, where they drive inflammation and often present as symptoms of mental illness. Probiotic supplementation has proven to be extremely effective in treating depression.
We deny our bodies the experience of nourishment when we eat unconsciously. You can practice being mindful by taking a moment before each meal to appreciate what’s on your plate: the smell, the colors, the textures. Cultivate feelings of gratitude for the sacrifice that was made in order for your food to get from farm-to-plate.
Overhauling your diet can be overwhelming, especially since Western medicine has made us accustomed to quick fixes. However, the commitment to your health is worth it and making this lifestyle change leads to long-term, sustainable results.
Let Us Help You Flourish
At Flourish! we take an integrative approach to treating clients through mindfulness-based psychotherapy, nutritional services, and wellness consultations. A holistic approach allows us to provide individualized treatment, customized to the needs of each client. By evaluating the whole person, we’re able to get to the root cause of your symptoms and provide the most effective treatment plan so that you can live a fuller, happier life.
The most important value that all of our practitioners share: mindfulness. We believe mindfulness is key to cultivating well-being, but we understand that getting there often requires the guidance of an experienced and trusted facilitator.
If you struggle with depression, anxiety, or a mood disorder, coupled with chronic illness and/or digestive problems, you could benefit from the integrative nutrition and mindfulness-based treatment options available at Flourish!