Food and mood

Better minds better living with Yansie Rolston Monday, May 15 2017

AT long last, mental health is finally becoming more mainstream and we are being made aware of the fact that one in four and in some societies one in three people will be affected with mental health challenges during our lifetime.

However, there is one important component which is often ignored or relegated to a “by-theway” comment and that is, the significance of nutrition, healthy eating and mental health.

The Mental Health Foundation (TMHF) Feeding Minds Report indicates how food plays an important contributing factor in the development, management and prevention of specific mental health problems such as depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Alzheimer’s disease.

There is also an emerging body of research indicating that consuming unhealthy foods inflates the risk of anxiety and depression, and that the converse is also true, that is, psychosocial illnesses such as depression and anxiety intensifies the tendency towards unhealthy eating habits and increases the chances of developing gastrointestinal disorders.

Those disorders can go on to create diminished mental health outcomes because the gut physiologically reacts to the environment, thoughts and emotional stressors.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that a healthy diet ought to include: eating more fruit, vegetables, peas and beans, nuts and grains; cutting down on salt, sugar and fats.

It is also advisable to reduce the intake of high saturated fats, refined carbohydrates, processed foods and high levels of preservatives.

Though the role of nutrition in mental health is not yet fully appreciated and adequately actioned by health services, individuals can take responsibility for ensuring that they integrate healthy, well-balanced diets as part and parcel of building resilience and managing mental health. But this may not always be easy due to some mental health disorders and some medications exacerbating the tendency to comfort or binge eat.

Some useful tips include: Keep hydrated – dehydration lends itself to brain fog that is, feelings of confusion, forgetfulness, and lack of focus and mental clarity, and many people with mental health disorders feel thirsty.

In addition, some medicines cause dry mouth.

Monitor sugar intake because low blood sugar or a sudden sugar rush can cause anxiety symptoms, irritability, and depressive feeling.

Increase uptake of omega-3 fatty acids which can be found in foods such as flaxseeds, walnuts, and oily fish. There is research suggesting that this may help as a mood stabiliser and as a preventative for bipolar disorder relapses.

There is inconclusive evidence linking Vitamin D deficiency and increases in depression, and it appears that Vitamin D insufficiency is more prevalent amongst black people primarily because pigmentation reduces its production in the skin. Grapefruit and grapefruit juice should be taken in moderation as it can alter medication metabolism by increasing the concentration of anti-depressants, antipsychotic and sedatives.

Monitor caffeine consumption found in tea, coffee, and energy drinks as it is a stimulant with addictive characteristics known to cause anxiety and depressed feeling.

Check for food intolerances such as yeast, dairy, and wheat as they can exacerbate feelings of unwellness.

Keep a food diary and write down how certain foods make you feel or if they affect your concentration, mood or sleep patterns.

Avoid unnecessary mood affecting additives and flavour enhancers such as MSG (monosodiumglutamate), artificial colouring, and sweeteners as they are linked to compulsive tendencies, frustration, irritability, nervousness, mood swings and depression.

To quote Dr Andrew Mc Culloch – TMHF: “The time is now right for nutrition to become a mainstream everyday component of mental health care”.

In addition to healthy eating and nutrition, devote time to enhancing general well-being by: Increasing physical activity such as walking instead of taking the elevator.

Maintaining fulfilling relationships and friendship.

Avoiding substance dependency, misuse and abuse Good nutrition and healthy eating positively impact mental well-being – they heighten feel-good receptors, give clarity of thought, increase energy, and stabilise mood.

Dr Yansie Rolston FRSA is a UK-based disability and mental health specialist advisor.

She is a social strategist and trainer who works internationally at various levels of government, business and civil society. Contact her at yr@efficacyeva. com

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