Why food Matters…. Mental health is complex. Many factors are known to contribute to poor mental health such as lack of exercise, genetics, economics, nutritional deficiencies, traumatic life events and so on. For those wishing to take control of their own health, nutritional, psychological & lifestyle therapies offer a safe and effective way of improving mental health. For those with mild to moderate depression, trials have repeatedly demonstrated that treatments such as St Johns Wort and regular exercise are as effective as pharmaceutical medications, are also cheaper and have fewer side effects. Why ARE nutrients so important for your mental health? Nutrients play a central role in;
serotonin & dopamine production and activity
reducing the inflammation that blocks serotonin production
preventing excess free radicals from disrupting normal nerve firing in the brain.
Providing the body with ‘building blocks’ essential for neurotransmitter production, e.g. you can’t make dopamine without having tyrosine in the diet.
overcoming genetic ‘shortcomings’ so as to prevent (mental health) illness, for e.g. improving folic acid metabolism. Dietary Essentials for Mental Health
Low Glycaemic Index Foods
Oily Fish- 3 serves/wk esp. sardines, mackerel, herring, salmon.
Protein – 2 serves /day. Fish, lamb, eggs, chicken, beef, tofu, legumes, cheese.
Coloured Berries – 50gms or more.
Nuts 60gm daily- esp. walnuts & almonds.
Green leafy veg- essential for folic acid.
Restrict intake of vegetable oils, esp. Trans fats, Omega 6’s & fats exposed to high temperature.
Moderate or no consumption of alcohol, nicotine & coffee.
Dark chocolate- 70% or 85% cocoa, 20gms daily (lowers stress hormone cortisol What’s in my tool box? These are the key herbs and nutrients I often use for mental health conditions. Of course, prescriptions are as varied as people themselves and always individualised.
5-HTP, Folic Acid, B12, B6.
Magnesium, Zinc, GABA, Taurine, NAC, Vitamin D.
St.John’s Wort, Kava, Passiflora, Rhodiola, Skullcap, Lavender, Lemon Balm.
Probiotics, Fish Oil – both EPA & DHA.
Mindfulness/ Meditation/ Stress Management Resources There is an abundance of online and community based behavioural tools at our disposal, here are some that have proven to be helpful.
Mood Gym- online Cognitive behavioural therapy.
Smiling Minds- Smartphone App
Jon Kabat-Zinn- Guided mindfulness meditation. CD’s available online.
Yoga, Tai Chi, Belly Breathing, Any exercise, gardening.
Good sleep – apply sleep hygiene practices if necessary.
N.U.T.S. Program- developed by Dr. Sonia Lupien.
The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the life you want. (www.thehowofhappiness.com)
Headspace- online mindfulness mediation
The benefit of these types of strategies is that they empower action on an individual level and put you in the driving seat so that you can effectively take charge of your health and your treatment plan. And when life throws the odd wobbly at you (which is inevitable) or your resilience fades, seeing a health professional who puts you back in the drivers seat rather than a practitioner who medicates you may just be the better option. Research Reveals…. A recent study exposing mice to cats (stress) found that when the mice were fed a blueberry enhanced diet, serotonin (often called the happy hormone) increased whilst stress hormones stayed controlled; ultimately enhancing and stabilising mood.