Diet and mental health research has largely focused on physical and medical health and their subsequent impact on mental health. Study findings have revealed important relationships in how physical and medical issues impact mental health acutely and chronically. We also know that mental health can affect treatment outcome for medical illnesses, reinforcing the belief of a link between the physical and psychological.
Research investigating the food-mental health relationship is at a nascent stage which is exciting and suggests caution in preliminary findings. Most laboratory research has focused on rats, but studies with human participants comparing diets and mental health across nations and cultures do exist. These studies are finding that people who have diets with less processed foods and more nutrient-dense foods (vegetables, seafood, nuts, fruits, beans) have a lower risk of mental health issues.
Then there are anecdotal observations from clinical work, including my own. Two of the most common observations patients share with me are taking a daily omega-3 supplement and removing gluten (pasta, baked goods) from their diet had significant positive affects on their mood and a decrease in their depressive symptoms. Again consider this anecdotal evidence with caution and do your own research.
Certain foods affect, for better or worse, your cognitive capabilities of memory and concentration. Memory and concentration are both influenced by depression and anxiety. Foods can also affect the production of neurotransmitters (acetylcholine, norepinephrine,
dopamine, serotonin). These neurotransmitters greatly influence the expression of psychological disorders. So is it that much of a jump to hypothesize that foods with certain nutrients and acids could either mitigate or exacerbate anxiety and depression? It's a question being asked by scientists across the globe.
For 99.99% of human existence, society was exclusively a hunter-gatherer system. It was completely natural to seek out fatty, rich foods because there was no certainty about where and when the next meal would come. Now food is easily accessible for most of us. Our bodies weren't built or programmed for easy food access, and now we're seeing the fallout of that with skyrocketing rates of heart disease, obesity, and other medical conditions. People can't evolve fast enough so they are breaking down physically, physiologically, and mentally.
Be aware of what you eat. Ask yourself how you are feeling after you eat a certain food? How is your energy level, mood? Are you able to concentrate? You might be surprised by what you find.
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Salmaan Toor is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Knoxville, TN. If you are interested in being notified of future posts, you can “like” The Family Center of Knoxville on facebook here or can follow me on Twitter here. Thanks for your support!