Nutrition and Mental Health

In my last article I wrote about physical health struggles and ways to combat them. We know this can be a struggle, and I know this from experience. What with working back at home, which was my choice, I noticed that my daily walking has stopped. Over the past few weeks I fell back into eating more than usual or not necessarily healthy again. I can feel it too, not physically but mentally. I am working back into it, though. I also mentioned at the end of the last article that I would move on to the topic of food and our mental health. As mental health has finally become a less taboo, more discussed and researched topic, I thought it time to see what I could find online and provide to our group and the masses. I am putting a disclaimer here that none of this is my research.  Since I am not a medical professional in these terms. I am not a doctor, a nutritionist/dietitian, psychologist or neurologist, I am simply providing information that I have found and read. I have also cited the locations where I have pulled this from. I simply found this to be an interesting topic that is currently very relevant, more than ever.

Have you ever felt bad, like tired, or in a mind fog after eating a heavy, dense or greasy meal? One of the most common feelings from overeating is that our minds often tend to become clouded, forgetful, and we become irritable. The same happens not only when we overeat but when we eat unhealthy foods. An important thing to note is that your gut (your stomach and intestines) plays a large part in your brain activity. Keeping our gastrointestinal tract healthy will also help our mind. Proper nutrition is essential for our nervous system to work effectively. (1) Below I have pasted some information that is worded much better than I could word it, and I did not want to re-word it incorrectly. 

Amino acids are converted to neurotransmitters, which help alleviate symptoms. Neurotransmitters are chemicals released from a nerve cell to another nerve, muscle, tissue, or organ. It is essentially the messenger of information from one cell to another. There are six neurotransmitters, and they each play a role in muscle contractions, heart rate, digestion, memory, learning and mood regulation, regulation of sleeping, eating, and moderation of mood, movement pleasure, and pain. The lack of proper amino acids in the body negatively impacts these functions, thereby causing disorders. For example, a low level of serotonin, one of the six neurotransmitters, has been linked to suicide. Neurotransmitters are converted from amino acids and it is important to supply the body with it externally since the body cannot produce it on its own. (2)

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions. What’s more, the function of these neurons — and the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin — is highly influenced by the billions of “good” bacteria that make up your intestinal microbiome. These bacteria play an essential role in your health. They protect the lining of your intestines and ensure they provide a strong barrier against toxins and “bad” bacteria; they limit inflammation; they improve how well you absorb nutrients from your food; and they activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and the brain. (3)

If you have low serotonin, you might feel anxious, low, or depressed; feel irritable or aggressive; have sleep issues or feel fatigued; feel impulsive; have a decreased appetite; experience nausea and digestive issues; and crave sweets and carbohydrate-rich foods. Do not fear, though, there are ways to increase your serotonin and feel better. (4) Here are some ways to increase that neurotransmitter. Food, exercise, bright light, supplements, massage, mood induction. (5) But before you start any of these things (the most important being supplements and exercise), check with your health provider.

Just taking multivitamin supplements and even prescribed drugs will not fully combat these problems that many of us face unless we do something along with it. A pill will never fix all but can provide some assistance.

So I’ve provided a lot of information about neurotransmitters, with some background on how they help your brain and gut function together, but now it is time to go into some of the mental health disorders, for some examples on why eating healthy is important. One of the most common examples largely found among the Western (American) culture is depression. In numerous studies, depression is thought to be based on chemical imbalances or unstable emotions. Some of the most common symptoms are ones that some, if not most, of us feel on a nearly daily basis. These happen to be skipping meals, craving sweets and having a poor appetite. (6) In the citations below, I have provided a link to a case study done by a clinician in regard to food and its effects on our mental wellness, written by Laura Lachance, MD and Drew Ramsey, MD. 

As you can see above, the link between low serotonin and depression has the same symptoms.  I plan to use some of this research with this information and find out more about where my serotonin levels are at, because none of this sounds like fun, but a lot of it sounds like feelings I have gone through and symptoms I still have. I am making no medical determination on myself or anyone else, but if I find that increasing my serotonin intake makes me feel better, then I will be happy I found this information out. I want to put a challenge out for those who read this article to do the same. 

Please be sure to read all of the articles that I have provided below. There is much more information in them that I did not provide but were my sources for this article. 

LTjg Becky McDaniel – USS Tiburon Chief Medical Officer

Nutrition citing webpages

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