The evolving health of our brains and minds is the foundation of everything we do as humans. Nothing can occur without processing through the mind. Similarly, with nutrients we put into our bodies—whatever we ingest must first find its way through the digestive system.
The importance of the nervous system and digestive system is obvious, but the relationship between the two? It’s a little more subtle if you’re not observing it with intention. Is it possible that there is an interplay between the status of mental health and deficiency in diet? Let’s explore how the respective systems in the body interact.
Mental Health and Nutrition
If unaware of the association, it might be strange to consider that nutrition could have an impact on mental health. Commonly, most people know about the connection between their feelings and their cravings.
We’ve also seen that there is a link between struggling with mental feelings and digestion. It’s common to understand that negative or troublesome emotions might result in not feeling hungry, or upset stomach.
The Brain and Gut
These are likely everyday associations. However, the bridge between mental health and nutrition goes deeper. One clue we have is the functionality of the gut or digestive system as a whole. Beyond stomach aches and craving, the digestive system is an integral component of many operations in the body.
It is responsible for receiving, processing, and absorbing nutrients that serve as determinants. Based on what is introduced to the body dietarily, the gut will signal the brain to behave in particular ways. This happens through their immediate connection and communication channel—the brain-gut-axis.
It’s explained by one of the body’s largest nerves, otherwise known as the vagus nerve. It works alongside the millions of neurons in the central nervous system (CNS) and is responsible for sending signals from both ends.
Another way the gut and brain share a connection is through neurotransmitters. They are found within the brain as generally known. However, they are present in the millions of bacteria in the digestive tract as well.
Why Deficiencies Make a Difference
I can recall my first discussion with a therapist about the possibility that health or food supplements might improve my anxiety. Without a substantial background, the idea first struck me as odd. I had a hard time believing that a small fix such as taking magnesium or omega-3 could really do much for my messy, anxious feelings.
When referring to mental concerns, it’s typical to assume at least in part that adverse feelings have something to do with genetics or environmental factors. This is not untrue, and what’s more, it further supports the linkage between nutrition and mental functions, cognitively and emotionally.
If the gut detects that a nutrient or vitamin is lacking, it influences the brain. It will signal the brain to respond in ways that may result in decreased mental health.
Types of Deficiencies Linked to Mental Health
Dietary input is one way to become deficient in a particular vitamin or nutrient. However, genetic differences may also play a significant role. Interestingly, the relationship between mental health and deficiency can work both ways. Deficiency can lead to mental health problems, and mental health problems can lead to deficiency.
The following are common nutrients along with their respective relations to functions pertaining to mental health.
Proteins consist of amino acids. They are an essential component to many neurotransmitters in the brain. Specifically, serotonin and dopamine. Lack of amino acids may result in a lack of synthesis for neurotransmitters, which is associated with low mood and aggression.
Omega-3 fatty Acid Deficiency
Adequate levels of essential fatty acids are critical during infant stages to develop visual, cerebral, and intellectual capabilities. A deficiency in omega-3 or omega-6 may lead to increased feelings of depression and mood swings. Deficiency may also lead to accelerated aging of the brain. It also shares a link with dyslexia and autism.
B Vitamin Deficiency
Vitamin B-12 may aid in slowing the progression of mental orders like dementia. However, deficiency may lead to cognitive decline in general, and poor mood.
Folic acid enhances the effectiveness of certain antidepressants. The connection between folic acid and mental health is inconclusive in terms of which affects which. However, depression is a correlated symptom of deficiency.
Specifically relating to pregnancy, low levels of iodine relate to severe cerebral dysfunction and lack of clarity for the mother.
Depression, fatigue, and overall stress of cerebral function can occur from a deficiency in iron. Iron deficiency anemia can also link to apathy and rapid fatigue.
Lithium is long-associated with a slew of mental health conditions. Lack of lithium may result in mental illness and mood instability. Bipolar disorder, manic depression, suicide, schizophrenia, ADD, aggression, impulse control disorder, alcoholism, and eating disorders may all be treated with adequate levels of lithium.
A lack of selenium may lead to lowered mood and anxiety. It can also promote cognitive decline over time, resulting in the progression of related diseases like Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Low concentrations of zinc in the body relate to clinical depression and overall brain disease. Three major areas of the brain, the amygdala, hippocampus, and cerebral cortex depend on zinc to work properly.
A Note from GR8NESS
Keep in mind that these are common deficiencies to watch for. Now that you understand the correlation between mental function and nutrition note that other deficiencies may also have an impact. While many of these nutrients are available in precise supplement form, they may also be taken in via healthy foods that are rich with their contents. If you experience any symptoms of mental health struggle, never hesitate to ask for assistance. Reach out to a loved one or mental health professional.