The Link Between Food and Mood
Recent research looking at the effects of the antihypertensive diet on mental health concluded this kind of dietary pattern, which is low in sugar and high in fresh fruits and vegetables, can help reduce the risk of depression in many people especially seniors.
Overall, people who followed the DASH diet were 11% less likely to develop depression over the following 6 years, whereas those following a standard Western diet, high in red meat and low in fruits and vegetables, had the highest rates of depression.
But, while many conventional experts recommend the DASH diet, it is not always ideal for optimal health, as it also promotes whole grains and low-fat foods, including low-fat dairy.
Healthy fats, including saturated animal and plant fats and animal-based omega-3, are Key for optimal brain health.
The DASH diet produces many beneficial results is because it is low in sugar and high in unprocessed foods, not because it’s low in fat.
Other studies have shown that unprocessed foods, especially fermented foods, help optimize the gut microbiome, thereby supporting optimal mental health, whereas sugar, wheat (gluten) and processed foods have been linked to a greater risk for depression, anxiety and even suicide.
The primary information highway between the human gut and the human brain is the vagus nerve, which connects the 2 primary organs.
The gut communicates to the brain through the endocrine system in the stress pathway, the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal axis, and by producing mood-boosting neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA.
These communication links help explain why gut health has such a significant impact on mental health in humans
A number of food ingredients cause and/or aggravate depression, but one of the most significant is sugar, particularly refined sugar and processed fructose.
In 1 study, men consuming more than 67 grams of sugar per day were 23% more likely to develop anxiety or depression over the course of 5 years compared to those whose sugar consumption was less than 40 grams per day.
This held true even after accounting for other contributing factors, such as socioeconomic status, exercise, alcohol use, smoking, other poor eating habits, body weight and general physical health.
Lead author Anika Knüppel, a research student in the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, commented on the findings, saying:
“Sweet food has been found to induce positive feelings in the short-term. People experiencing low mood may eat sugary foods in the hope of alleviating negative feelings. Our study suggests a high intake of sugary foods is more likely to have the opposite effect on mental health in the long-term.”
Research published in Y 2002, which correlated per capita consumption of sugar with prevalence of major depression in 6 countries, also found “a highly significant correlation between sugar consumption and the annual rate of depression.”
A Spanish study published in Y 2011 linked depression specifically to consumption of baked goods.
Those who ate the most baked goods had a 38% higher risk of depression than those who ate the least, baked goods contain both processed grains and added sugars.
Sugar has been shown to trigger depression and other mental health problems through a number of different mechanisms, including the following:
|Feeding pathogens in your gut, allowing them to overtake more beneficial bacteria.|
|Suppressing activity of a Key growth hormone in your brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF levels are critically low in both depression and schizophrenia, and animal models suggest this may actually be a causative factor.|
|Triggering a cascade of chemical reactions in your body that promote chronic inflammation, which over the long term disrupts the normal functioning of your immune system and wreaks havoc on your brain.|
|Contributing to insulin and leptin resistance, which also plays a significant role in your mental health.|
|Affecting dopamine, a neurotransmitter that fuels your brain’s reward system. Hence sugar’s addictive potential) and is known to play a role in mood disorders.|
|Damaging your mitochondria, which can have bodywide effects. Your mitochondria generate the vast majority of the energy (adenosine triphosphate or ATP) in the human body.
When sugar is ones’ primary fuel, excessive reactive oxygen species (ROS) and secondary free radicals are created, which damage cellular mitochondrial membranes and DNA. As the mitochondria are damaged, the energy currency in your body declines and your brain will struggle to work properly.
Healthy dietary fats, on the other hand, create far fewer ROS and free radicals. Fats are also critical for the health of cellular membranes and many other biological functions, including and especially the functioning of your brain.
Among the most important fats for brain function and mental health are the long-chained animal-based omega-3 fats DHA and EPA.
Not only are they anti-inflammatory, but DHA is actually a component in every cell of your body, and 90%of the omega-3 fat found in brain tissue is DHA.
A paper published in Nutritional Neuroscience last year looked at evidence from laboratory, population research and clinical trials to create “a set of practical dietary recommendations for the prevention of depression, based on the best available current evidence.”
According to this paper, the published evidence reveals 5 Key dietary recommendations for the prevention of depression:
- Following a “traditional” dietary pattern such as the Mediterranean, Norwegian or Japanese diet
- Increasing consumption of antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrain cereals, nuts and seeds (note that autoimmune diseases are rampant and whole grains and legumes are loaded with lectins and best avoided.
- Eating plenty of omega-3-rich foods
- Replacing unhealthy processed foods with real, wholesome nutritious foods
- Avoiding processed foods, fast food, commercial baked goods and sweets
With that in mind the 3 brain and mood-wrecking foods to automatically avoid when avoiding processed foods are added sugars, artificial sweeteners and processed vegetable oils (the harmful fats known to clog the arteries and cause mitochondrial dysfunction).
Gluten appears to be particularly problematic for many people if so it should be avoided.
Certain types of lectins, especially wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), are also known for their psychiatric side effects.
WGA can cross your blood brain barrier through a process called “adsorptive endocytosis,” pulling other substances with it. WGA may attach to your myelin sheath and is capable of inhibiting nerve growth factor, which is important for the growth, maintenance and survival of certain target neurons.
Processed foods are also a significant source of GE (genetically engineered) ingredients and toxic herbicides like Monsanto’s (NYSE:MON) Roundup.
In addition to being toxic and potentially carcinogenic, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, has been shown to preferentially decimate beneficial gut microbes.
Many grains are let to dry in the field before being harvested, and to speed that process, the fields are doused with glyphosate a couple of weeks before harvest.
As a result of this Big Ag practice, called desiccation, grain-based products tend to contain rather substantial amounts of glyphosate.
This reason alone is enough to warrant a grain-free diet, but if you do choose to eat whole grain products, make sure it’s organic to avoid glyphosate contamination.
Beverage choices need to be examined too.
Most people drink little pure water, relying on sugary beverages like sodas, fruit juices, sports drinks, energy drinks and flavored water for their hydration needs. None of those alternatives do mental health any good.
As I mentioned above, one of the mechanisms by which good nutrition bolsters good mental health is by cutting down inflammation in the body, and a high-sugar diet is exceptionally inflammatory.
A number of studies I have read link depression with chronic inflammation.
Astudy published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in Y 2016 concluded that depressed patients had 46% higher levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein in their blood.
Notably, they also had 16% lower levels of low fractional exhaled nitric oxide, which adds further support for doing exercises that boost nitric oxide cycling.
As explained in the study:
“Nitric oxide (NO), in addition to being an inflammatory mediator, is also a neurotransmitter at the neuron synapses. It modulates norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine and glutamate and thus is speculated to play a role in the pathogenesis of depression. Nitric oxide is also currently seen as a marker of airway inflammation and can be measured during exhalation.
Fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) may represent both constitutive and inducible NO. Small studies suggest that subjects with depressed mood have low levels of FeNO … Subjects with depression also have low levels of plasma and platelet NO. The low systemic levels of NO have been postulated to be responsible for the increased risk of cardiovascular events observed in subjects with depression, as NO produces vasodilatation …
In summary, this large population-based study found that depression is associated with high levels of CRP and low levels of FeNO. These findings corroborate the premise that inflammation could play a role in the pathophysiology of major depression and that major depression may be seen as a psychoneuroimmunological disorder.”
Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide, affecting an estimated 322-M people globally, including more than 16-M Americans, so eat Real Food.
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live lively, Breathe
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