Mental Health: Improve Your Outlook With A Healthy Diet

Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - 11:52am

By Wendy Hodsdon, ND

Can your diet affect your mental health? Yes. Depression, anxiety, attention deficient disorder, compulsive disorders, and other disorders of mood are affected by the health of your nervous system. Your nervous system is composed of cells no different than other cells in your body, and every cell in your body depends on food for providing it with essential nutrients. In this way, poor nutrition can cause poor mental health.

To recover from a mental health condition, it is important to supply your nervous system with nutritional building blocks to help your nerve cells and brain cells to detoxify and function optimally. With or without medication, a good, healthful diet can support the nervous system in functioning better and can lead to better health. If you have specific mental health questions or concerns, it is best to speak to your doctor.

Stronger mental health by nourishing your nervous system

  • Eat healthy whole foods full of vitamins and nutrients. Beneficial nutrients include B vitamins (especially thiamin, pyridoxine and niacin), calcium, magnesium and trace minerals. These building blocks help build neurotransmitters and repair damaged nerve cells.

  • Include essential fatty acids in your diet everyday. Your brain is the richest source of fatty acids in your body. Essential fatty acids are incorporated into the membranes of its nerve cells. If your diet has an overabundance of trans-fatty acids or saturated fats, these elements are incorporated into your brain's nerve cells' membranes, which will make the membranes less fluid and affect their ability to function effectively.
  • Sources of essential fatty acids include cold water fish (such as wild salmon, mackerel, herring and halibut), flax seeds (either ground or as an oil) and nuts (especially walnuts). Grass fed beef and free-range organic chickens have more essential fatty acids then grain-fed animals.

  • To decrease trans-fatty acids, avoid processed foods containing partially hydrogenated oils, margarine, and shortening.

Ways to decrease the stress on the nervous system and improve your mental health

  • Decrease caffeine consumption. Caffeine is generally overused in our society and is a stress to the body to eliminate. Many studies have shown benefits from eliminating caffeine for people with depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

  • Decrease refined sugar consumption. The effect of sugar is worse when eaten with caffeine. While sugar acts as a stimulant, the effects are short-lived and do more damage than good in the long run for people with depression, anxiety, seizures, ADD, and other mood disorders.
  • Decrease alcohol consumption. Alcohol actually interferes with many brain cell processes, disturbs sleep, changes the adrenal gland output, and can lead to low blood sugar and sugar cravings.
  • Avoid food allergens. Food allergies have been related to mental health disorders for decades. Food allergy symptoms include depression, fatigue, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and nervousness.