Carola Becker, Nutritionist and Fitness Instructor – and director at Devon & Plymouth Chamber of Commerce – highlights the importance of a good diet.
When we are thinking about mental health, nutrition is probably NOT the first thought that springs to mind.
If anything, we think of comfort food, maybe something like chocolate to make us feel better when we are feeling down or stressed. But there’s a lot more to it!
Physical and mental health are intertwined, and one certainly affects the other.
Does a poor diet cause mental illness?
I realise that this may be a controversial statement and considering the different types and severity of mental illnesses, it’s clear that there is no one-size-fits-all and blaming a poor diet would be far too easy.
But evidence shows that nutrition is definitely part of the puzzle – at any stage of your mental health journey, from the very first onset to final recovery.
If you are already vulnerable and affected by genetic and environmental factors like stress at work or at home, a traumatic experience, or a medical condition; your diet and a lack of nutrients can increase the risk of developing a mental illness.
On the other hand, we have known for quite a while that certain nutrients support mental health and a lack of those can contribute to the onset of poor mental health in all its forms.
The ongoing communication between gut and brain
There is a significant communication going on between our central nervous system and the gut Microbiota. Basically – when our digestive system is well, our central nervous system is happy, too.
On the other hand, studies have suggested that people with sensitive stomachs, IBS, or coeliac disease are more prone to develop mental health issues.
To make things worse, I don’t know anybody (including myself!) who eats well and balanced when they are stressed, suffering from low mood or are tired.
That’s where the sugar/fat combination plus too much coffee come in for most people. Which means that during these phases our body and brain need to work twice as hard to keep going!
What can we do? A lot!
Step one: Probiotics
When we are looking at the help we can offer our digestive system we need to differentiate between prebiotics and probiotics.
Increasing probiotics, the live bacteria that can improve or restore your gut flora, is an important first step. You can find them in fermented foods and drinks like Kimchi and kefir or you can take a supplement in tablet form.
Step two: Prebiotics
Once you have topped up your gut bacteria you can start feeding them with prebiotics. Those are the types of fibre in foods which keep your bacteria healthy so they can do their job: digestion, immune system, production of the hormone leptin that makes you feel full.
Best foods are leeks, onions, apples, oats amongst others.
A recent study showed that only three weeks of probiotic treatment can help restoring your microbiota and can reduce levels of depression, stress, and anxiety.
People showed an overall happier mood, more energy, less ‘brain-fog’. Note that a good supplement may be cheaper and more efficient in delivering the bacteria to your gut than the yoghurt drinks you can get in the supermarket.
To help your gut feeling great and communicate only the friendly and happy messages to your brain, you need both: probiotics and prebiotics.
I’m a firm believer that nutrition changes everything, I see it every day in the teams and individuals I work with. Don’t wait for the disaster to happen. If you start developing good eating habits and add the foods that support your mental health, you will go easier and quicker through the next storm!
Find out more by visiting Carola’s website here.