“One of the most limiting concepts in the human sciences is the idea that the mind and body are separate”. Patrick Holford, Clinical Nutritionist
Could what you eat play a role in your mental Health?
Possibly. The Standard American Diet (SAD) has shifted since the 1950s, with greater access to calorie dense, nutrient poor food and beverages. Unfortunately, this dietary pattern is often deficient in
many nutrients, especially essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids.
So what does this have to do with mental health?
Luckily, nutritional neuroscience is an emerging discipline shedding light on the fact that nutritional factors are intertwined with human cognition, behavior, and emotions. Many studies are showing nutritional areas to focus on that seem to have most impact on mental health include:
- Nutrient Deficiencies-such as essential fatty acids, B vitamins, Magnesium, Chromium, Vitamin C, and
- Blood Sugar Imbalances- associated with excessive sugar consumption and stimulant intake
- Deficiencies in Amino Acids, precursors to neurotransmitters
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. That’s 40 million adults—18% of the population—who struggle with anxiety. Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand, with about half of those with depression also experiencing anxiety.
Can improving diet help?
A 2014 article published in Current Neuropharmacology reviewed studies that showed a correlation between anxiety and a state of low antioxidants, and high oxidative stress. This suggests that enhancing your diet with foods rich in antioxidants from whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, and legumes, may
help ease the symptoms of anxiety disorders.
In addition, there was a randomized control trial of medical students that showed those
supplementing with Omega 3 Fatty Acids had a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms, compared to those taking a placebo. This suggests a diet rich in Omega 3 fatty acids may help reduce anxiety. Food sources of Omega 3 fatty acids include: fatty fish like salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines; as well as vegetarian
sources including flaxseeds, cha seeds and walnuts.
Lastly, there is a strongblink between anxiety and glucose imbalance. Americans with diabetes are 20 percent more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety than those without diabetes, according to findings from
the 2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. States of anxiety are associated with the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which are impacted by blood sugar imbalances, as well as alcohol and stimulant consumption. By balancing blood sugar through a low glycemic diet and reducing alcohol and stimulant (caffeine) consumption, anxiety symptoms may be improved.
In addition, finding other ways to switch out of an adrenaline state can be helpful in managing anxiety.
- Amino acid or mineral supplements such as GABA, Taurine, or Magnesium
- Calming herbs such as Valerian Root, Kava or Passion Flower
A note on self-medication.
Many experiencing anxiety may self-medicate with alcohol or cannabis, or see their doctor for a prescription. The choice of these three options is no coincidence.They all promote the neurotransmitter and amino acid, GABA, which helps turn off excess adrenaline (a hormone released in response to stress) and calms you down. Having enough GABA in your brain is associated with being relaxed and happy, while having too little is associated with anxiety, tension, depression, and insomnia, according to one study. However, each of these options can be highly addictive and prescription medication comes with a list of side effects.
It’s important to note that improving mental health isn’t only about nutrition. However, a combination of optimal nutrition and psychological support could be the solution to some of the common mental health issues in our society today.
Disclaimer: Information on this website is meant for general use only and is not intended to diagnose, cure, or treat disease. The content within is for educational purposes and nothing should be considered as a medical diagnosis, treatment or advice. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their primary healthcare provider. The information contained on the site is not a substitute for the knowledge, skill, and expertise of medical doctors or other healthcare professionals involved in direct patient care.
Grotto, D., & Zied, E.
(2010). The standard American diet and its relationship to the health status of Americans. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 25(6),
I.S. Shiah and N.Yatham, ‘GABA functions in mood disorders: An update and critical review’, Life Sciences, Vol 63 (15),1988, pp. 1289-1303
Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Belury, M. A., Andridge, R., Malarkey, W. B., & Glaser, R. (2011). Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: a randomized controlled trial. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 25(8), 1725–1734. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2011.07.229
Li, C. , Barker, L. , Ford, E. S., Zhang, X. , Strine, T. W. and Mokdad, A. H. (2008), Diabetes and anxiety in US adults: findings from the 2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Diabetic Medicine, 25:
NAMI.” NAMI, www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-conditions/anxiety-disorders.
Xu, Y., Wang, C., Klabnik, J. J., & O’Donnell, J. M. (2014). Novel therapeutic targets in depression and anxiety: antioxidants as a candidate treatment. Current neuropharmacology, 12(2), 108–119. doi:10.2174/1570159X11666131120231448
Katie Valley is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She owns Katie Valley Wellness LLC and works one on one with clients guiding them to healthier habits and practices to improve their lifestyle using a holistic approach to optimal health. You can find Katie sharing all things wellness in Instagram @katievalleywellness or sign up for her monthly newsletter at www.katievalleywellness.com