As you know, your diet consists of the foods you introduce to your body regularly. The concept of a “diet” may also be understood as everything you introduce into your body, and not just the food you eat. It can be the things you internalize, be it words, experiences, interactions with others, or everything you’re exposed to. This idea serves us well in understanding how diet pertaining to food, specifically, can affect more than just weight and nutritional health.
The effects your diet can have on your body do extend to your brain, overall cognitive function, and mental health. Don’t believe me? Have some celery, and perhaps you’ll change your mind. Just kidding, but seriously, let’s take a look at what we know to be true.
Your Brain-Gut Axis
The connection between diet and mental function is quite literal. It occurs in what’s referred to as the gut-brain axis (GBA). It describes a relationship between the central and enteric nervous systems. Simply put, the centers of the brain responsible for emotional and cognitive function are linked with the function of the intestines.
Neurons and the Vagus Nerve
What exactly does this mean? Well, the intestines are one portion of your gut, which is your entire digestive system. The gut begins in your mouth and consists of the esophagus, stomach, liver, gall bladder, pancreas, and intestines.
Neurons responsible for instructing your brain on how to behave are located in the central nervous system, and you’ve got billions of them there alone. Then, your gut contains approximately 2-3 times the amount of neurons in your brain. They are all connected by the vagus nerve, which sends signals back and forth from the brain to the digestive system, and vice versa.
What you eat affects this communication. Eating sends signals of what the body needs based on what has been introduced to the body. Meaning, the nutritional choices you make physically impact the way your brain operates. It comes down to neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters and Mental Disorders
The gut produces feel-good neurotransmitters that are in direct relation with mental health such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA.. This is specifically where mental health comes in.
Levels of these types of neurotransmitters can onset and offset mental conditions like depression and anxiety. While these types of conditions can come as a result of various factors, they can be brought about by imbalances in the gut. Alternatively, there is evidence to support that they may be treated by better balancing the gut.
Poor gut health links with mental illness are nothing new. This is concerning when considering the number of people that struggle with digestive issues, which is as high as 70 million people in the United States. Many of these relate to inflammation, arises from eating foods are high in sugar, trans fats, or refined carbs.
How You Can Improve Your Mental Health with Diet
As stated, foods that cause inflammation in the body can be harmful to mental health. While its hard to avoid certain types of food altogether, some practices can help to protect or preserve cognitive function.
Foods to Eat
The following are types of nutrients that are ideal, and foods that are effective for absorbing them.
- Curcumin: Turmeric
- Vitamin D: Milk, soymilk, cereal grains, fish liver, mushrooms
- Vitamin E: Asparagus, avocado, nuts, peanuts, olives, seeds, spinach
- Choline: Egg yolks, soy, beef, chicken, veal, lettuce
- Selenium: Turkey, chicken, tuna
- Copper: Oysters, lamb, liver, Brazil nuts, cocoa, black pepper
- Iron: Red meat, poultry, fish, lentils, beans
- Omega 3: Salmon, flax seeds, krill, chia, kiwi, walnuts
Aside from the physical contents of food being eaten, caloric restriction may have an impact on cognitive health. Specifically, controlled meal skipping or intermittent fasting. However, we need mroe research to confirm this. If you’re interested in trying intermittent fasting, try our challenge for intermittent fasting.
Supplements to Include
Another way to maximize your digestive system’s ability to regulate mental health is through probiotics. Probiotics and prebiotics have the potential to maintain the levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut that can help produce the hormones and chemicals needed to keep declining cognitive function and mental health at bay.
A Note from GR8NESS
With no pun intended, considering the interaction between the digestive tract and the brain is thought-provoking, to say the least. It’s GR8 information to have in your back pocket for yourself, as well as others that you care for.