How diet affects mental health

The physical affects of what we eat and drink are well documented, indeed there have been many studies on the links between diet and physical health conditions such as obesity, vitality and resistance to disease and infection. In the last few years scientific studies are starting to give more attention to the effects of our diet on our mental health. Diet and mental health are increasingly being linked together as more studies are carried out.

A detailed report - Feeding Minds - from the Mental Health Foundation suggests that many Mental Health conditions such as Depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s Disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be prevented / treated by consuming the right kinds of food and drinks.

The number of cases of mental illness has been steadily growing and this affects us both socially and economically (Mental Ill-Health treatment is costing the UK nearly £100 billion per year). The Feeding Minds report suggests that the changes in our diets over the last 50 years are a contributing factor to this.

Dr Andrew McCulloch from the Mental Health Foundation states that "we are only just beginning to understand how the brain as an organ is influenced by the nutrients it derives from the foods we eat and how diets have an impact on our mental health."

For many years the normal treatment for mental health problems have been focused on prescribing drugs to combat the effects of the mental health condition. These drugs however such as anti-depressants don't just effect the areas they are supposed to target, they can also have severe side effects on the behaviour of the user. This is why people on anti-depressants often report feeling like 'zombies' and not being their true selves as the drugs blur their normal thought patterns.

If eating the right diet and consuming the right foods, drinks and supplements can help prevent mental health problems then the promotion of these possibilities are of great importance. Prevention is better than the cure as the benefits include:

  • Prevention of emotional distress for the user and their friends / family
  • Reduced pharmaceutical bills
  • No negative physical / emotional side effects that can be associated with prescribed drugs.
  • Benefits to physical well being as the user will be consuming a well balanced diet so risk of obesity, heart conditions etc. is less.

Why does diet affect mental health?

Our brains are highly complex organs and they need a wide range of 'building blocks' in order for them to function properly including essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water.

A good proportion of the brain (60% of its dry weight) is made up of fat. The Feeding Minds report states that "Twenty per cent of the fat in our brain is made from the essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6. They are termed ’essential’ as they cannot be made within the body, so must be derived directly from the diet."

These essential fatty acids are responsible for helping determine the structure of our brain cells and it is understood that they should be consumed in equal amounts. The report summarises an unequal intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fats can cause a number of mental health problems including depression, concentration and memory problems and that western diets are unbalanced in that they provide more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats.

Neurotransmitters are passed to and fro within the brain enabling the neurons to communicate with each other. Amino acids are the building blocks that are used to make neurotransmitters and the majority of amino acids are taken directly from the diet that we consume. These neurotransmitters such as serotonin help relay feelings or emotions (serotonin relays a feeling of 'contentment'). Other neurotransmitters include the well known adrenaline which is known to encourage feelings of motivation.

Following a well balanced diet and juicing fresh fruit and vegetables and making smoothies from the right ingredients can help prevent a decline in our mental health by providing our bodies with the the essential elements needed for helping build a healthy brain stucture.