The influence of food on the psyche – what does the research say?

The influence of food on the psyche
The influence of food on the psyche

Nutrition significantly affects mental health and well-being, although the impact of individual diets is still poorly understood. These are the results of the analysis of available studies.

Scientists from the University of Gothenburg in the journal “European Neuropsychopharmacology” described the so far known relationships between what someone eats and how one feels. They analyzed the available scientific literature on the subject.

We found evidence of a link between poor diet and the worsening of mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. However, many common beliefs about the effects of individual ingredients are not supported by solid evidence, says the lead author of the study, Prof. Suzanne Dickson.

For example, the relationship between the so-called vegetable-rich olive oil rich in oil is well documented. Mediterranean Diet and Benefits for Mental Health. Among other things, it protects to some extent against anxiety and depression.

Researchers have also noticed, for example, that a diet rich in fat and low in carbohydrates (the so-called ketogenic diet) helps children with epilepsy, while vitamin B12 deficiency causes fatigue, weakens memory and promotes depression.

If you have any kind of mental health problems you should find professional health in a mental health treatment center.

It is also known that nutrition during pregnancy and early life is important for later brain function.

When it comes to a healthy adult population, the effect of food doesn’t seem that strong. “In healthy adults, the effect of diet on mental health is relatively small, and thus detecting these relationships is difficult: it may be that dietary supplementation only works when there are deficiencies due to poor nutrition. We also need to consider genetics: subtle differences in metabolism may cause different people to react differently to changes in the diet “- emphasizes Prof. Dickson.

However, the authors found no significant evidence of the effects of many popular supplements, such as vitamin D, or products that could affect ADHD or autism.

When it comes to specific disorders, we usually came across mixed information. In AHD, for example, you can see that increasing the amount of refined sugar increases ADHD and hyperactivity, and eating more fruits and vegetables seems to protect against this. However, relatively few studies on this topic are available, and many of them have not been conducted long enough to show long-term effects, explains Prof. Dickson.

Scientists also point out that nutritional psychiatry is a young field, and research in it is difficult to conduct. For example, food cannot be tested like drugs when a placebo is given to control patients. Little is known about the mechanisms of action of various nutritional components on the psyche.

“The main message of this work is that the impact of diet on mental health is real, but caution is needed when drawing conclusions from preliminary evidence. More research is needed on the long-term impact of a daily diet,” concludes Prof. Dickson.

Bad diet as a precursor to depression?

It is worth emphasizing here that a diet rich in sugars and unfavorable trans fats, and at the same time low in omega-3 fatty acids, leads to overweight and obesity. Among people who practice this way of eating, the percentage of people treated for depression is the highest. This dependency may be two-way. There are also cases where depression was the primary ailment and eating became a seemingly remedial measure.

What should you eat to be happy?

At the outset, it should be emphasized that there is no ideal nutritional model that can be tailored to the whole of society. On the other hand, there is evidence that some food ingredients have a beneficial effect on the human psyche. Here are some dietary tips to help you stay mentally healthy:

  • Take care of the right amount of protein, carbohydrates and fats. A diet that promotes mental health should, above all, be selective, i.e. providing all the necessary ingredients for the proper functioning of the body. How we should compose our diet is best shown by the plate of healthy eating, otherwise known as the Harvard Plate. Half of such a plate is made of vegetables and fruit, 1/4 of whole grains, 1/4 of a source of protein. In addition to composing the plate in this way, it is advisable to drink water (about 2 liters a day), eat healthy fats, and also exercise.
  • Reduce the frequency and amount of consuming highly processed foods. Foods containing both trans fats and simple sugars are detrimental to our gut health and can make a significant contribution to making you feel unwell, as well as increasing your risk of depression.
  • Enrich your diet with anti-inflammatory products and a high concentration of antioxidants. These include berries, walnuts and pecans, spices such as oregano, ginger, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and turmeric. They help to reduce the amount of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body, which are a factor in many diseases such as obesity, depression, and neoplastic diseases. Additionally, polyphenols contained in cocoa, coffee and tea reduce the risk of mood disorders.

  • Eat fermented foods. Fermented products support the species diversity of intestinal microbes, they also contain many B vitamins, necessary for the construction of neurons. Such products include cucumbers and sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, and some cheeses.

  • Remember about vitamin D3. In the summer season, it is synthesized under the influence of sunlight, and in the months from October to April, vitamin D3 supplementation is recommended in order to maintain its proper concentration in the body. A deficiency of this vitamin increases the risk of depression, and maintaining its normal level reduces the chance of relapse in people who have been depressed.

  • In addition, it is worth reducing alcohol consumption and introducing regular, moderate physical activity, such as walking, swimming, cycling, Nordic walking. Physical activity has a positive effect on the diversity of the microbiota and contributes to the improvement of cognitive functions, as well as reducing stress and increasing the happiness hormones in the body.

The use of psychobiotics, i.e. probiotic bacteria, such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium longum and Lactobacillus helveticus, has also been proven to have a positive effect on mental health. Research shows that their use has a beneficial effect on people with mental disorders such as depression and anxiety disorders. Read more about eating disorders.

Among other things, psychobiotics are involved in the production of neurotransmitters, support the immune system and the intestinal barrier, and reduce the concentration of cortisol. In addition, they have the ability to increase the synthesis of serotonin from tryptophan, which has a positive effect on our mood. The use of psychobiotics seems to be a beneficial adjunct in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders. However, you should consult your doctor before deciding to add psychobiotics to your diet.

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