The Wealth Health Organization1 defines mental health as a complete state of well-being and not just an absence of any disease. It would include your ability to deal with everyday stress and your healthy interaction with people around you. And the factors that govern this state of well-being range from genetic to environmental conditions.
According to the U.S. National Institute of Health2 factors affecting mental health include stress, diet, genes, drug intake, physical health and other socio-environmental factors. Among these, unbalanced diet aggravates the symptoms or makes the progress of illness faster.
A recent study published in the British Medical Journal3 states that consumption of fruits and vegetables have been found to be linked to different stress levels. The study conducted in Australia in 2010, found that as adults increase their fruits and vegetable consumption, their stress levels reduced.
Now, that we have ample evidence of the positive link between diet and mental health; let us explore the factors in the daily diet that affects a person’s emotional well-being.
Fish, Omega-3 Fatty acid and Depression
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are important for the growth and development of the central nervous system (CNS) of humans. By poly it means that they have many bonds or chains in their chemical makeup. There are short chain fatty acids (ALA) that we get from walnuts and flaxseed oil and long chain fatty acid (EPA and DHA) that we get from fish and fish oil.
Our body can convert the short chain fatty acids to long chain ones. One of the long chain fatty acids, DHA gets deposited in the membranes of our CNS and helps in brain development.
Age, stress, illness, increased intake of vegetable oils (omega-6 fatty acids) can adversely affect this conversion process.
The ideal ratio between omega 6 and omega 3 for humans is recommended to be 2:14. Currently, the North American diet has skewed the ratio to 20:1. It is quite possible that this imbalance affects an individual’s mental well-being.
By increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids the mental health of a person can be improved thereby helping in fighting off depression.
Dairy products, Vitamin B12 and Dementia
Vitamin B12 is found in milk, milk products, eggs and meat. It helps keep the blood cells healthy and also helps in preventing anemia which can cause tiredness. It also helps in making the DNA5.
This vitamin is not absorbed directly from food and has to be separated from the protein it is attached to. This process takes place in the stomach. As people’s digestive problems increase with age, the absorption of the vitamin becomes difficult.
This leads to problems of balance and memory which are symptoms of dementia.
Though more studies need to be undertaken to find out if vitamin B12 supplements can reverse dementia, it has been proved without doubt that vitamin B12 is essential for memory and general well-being of a person.
Berries, Antioxidants and Anxiety disorder
Oxidation is the process which produces some free radicals which can destroy cells of the body. Anti-oxidants prevent oxidation thereby keeping the healthy cells safe. Some antioxidants are Vitamin A, C and E. Food that are rich in antioxidants are various berries (cranberries, blueberries), beans and even dark chocolate.
Anxiety is the starting point of most stress-related disorders. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is one of the most common disorders related to stress.
When a person is stressed, his body undergoes some chemical changes. Adrenal production increases and so does the utilization of various minerals and vitamins in the body.
It has been statistically observed that a person suffering from GAD has a lower level of Vitamin A, C and E6. People diagnosed with mental health disorders can be aided in their treatment by providing them with supplemental doses of these vitamins.
Spinach, Folate and Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease (AD), one of the causes of dementia, is recognized as an irreversible disease that causes memory loss, impaired physical ability to carry out routine functions, and language problems.
Though no cure of the disease has been found yet, the symptoms of the disease can be reduced through exercise and diet. It has also been observed that by making dietary changes AD can be prevented or delayed.
One study showed that by changing the diet to include folate-rich food like dark green leafy vegetables and broccoli, the risk of developing AD is reduced considerably7.
As nutritional deficiencies have been linked to physical health problems (like scurvy is caused by the deficiency of Vitamin C), similarly new studies are pointing towards the link between mental health and diet. Leading a healthy lifestyle, which comprises adequate sleep, healthy food, and avoidance of addictive substances, helps in fighting off depressing and anxiety-provoking thoughts. This in turn leads to emotional well-being, happiness, and a better quality of life.
Author Bio: Mitravinda is a Nutritionist at DietChart with a doctoral degree in Food Science and Nutrition. She is a teacher, researcher and an author. Her passion for the subject prompted her to start writing blogs on various nutrition-related topics such as diet chart for weight loss, diet chart for weight loss in 7 days, how to remove pimple marks, yoga to improve digestion etc. Through her blogs, she wishes to help people gain a deeper understanding about the relationship between food, nutrition, lifestyle and health.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc.