Mental health disorders affect many people in the U.S. Estimates show that there are 40 million American adults suffering from anxiety and nearly 18 million with history of severe depressive episode in the past year.
Mental health is also becoming a major issue among the younger generation. There has been a growing number of young adults that experienced mental disorders over the past decade, according to ChrisKresser.com.
To date, majority of efforts to address mental health issues in the country focus on reducing stigma and promoting the positive effects of therapies and medications. However, nutrition is one of the factors that is yet to get the attention but already has significant impacts on mental health.
Diet supports the functions and development of the body. Studies showed that there is a link between the gut and brain.
Nutrition affects mental health because of the structure called the gut-brain axis. It serves as a communication network connecting the central nervous system, the enteric nervous system of the gut and gut microbes.
The gut–brain axis allows signaling molecules to travel from gut microbes and intestine to the brain and back. Research showed that microbes produce compounds that are delivered by the system to support brain function and mood.
Diet And Mental Health
The standard American diet (SAD) has long been linked to health problems and increased risk of having diseases. It includes high amounts of processed, refined foods that could contribute to psychological disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
SAD negatively affects mental health by increasing inflammatory-supporting gut microbiome, deficiencies of nutrients and causing a leaky gut.
People with bipolar disorder, major depression disorder and schizophrenia are known to have higher levels of gluten antibodies. Gluten affects mental health by supporting production of pro-inflammatory metabolites, which could reach the brain and trigger an inflammatory response and neuropsychiatric problems.
It is important to meet the body’s daily nutritional needs. Minerals are essential for mental health, especially iron, zinc and magnesium.
Iron deficiency could disrupt the development of the brain and increase the risk of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents.
Low levels of iron in the body impair the production of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. People should also prioritize zinc, which supports emotional processing, and magnesium, also known as “calming mineral.”
Probiotics and Prebiotics
Probiotics can help protect gut health and mental health. Scientists previously coined the term “psychobiotics” after discovering certain live bacteria that provide mental health benefits, such as reduced depression, anxiety and stress.
The common psychobiotics include lactobacillus rhamnosus, lactobacillus plantarum and lactobacillus helveticus.
Coffee and Tea
Studies found that having the right amounts of coffee and tea every day could help protect the mental health. Both hot beverages have been found with protective effects against depression because of polyphenols and L-theanine.