Warren is a Certified Weight Loss & Nutrition Coach with a passion for Health, Fitness & Nutrition.
The Link Between Food and Mental Health
Anxiety and depression are among the most prevalent of all mental health issues throughout the world today. They are the ones that are most commonly experienced and are believed to even be an issue beyond diagnosis — there are many experiencing the symptoms, even if they haven’t been diagnosed with a disorder. Since the problem is still one at large, new approaches are perhaps required.
There has been a growing interest in the link between nutrition and mental health. Research demonstrates that certain nutrients can be helpful, even critical, for one to benefit from optimal mental health and well-being. These include iron, omega 3-fats, magnesium, and calcium.
One of the roles of dietary iron is to act as a cofactor for enzymes that are involved in producing dopamine, serotonin, and gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), three chemicals that are released within the brain. These neurotransmitters play an important role in mood regulation, stress, and emotional well-being. Therefore, iron deficiency can inevitably lead to depression and anxiety, making it a critical nutrient for positive mental health. Foods high in iron are red meat, pork, and seafood.
A study found that iron supplementation was beneficial in helping reduce the risk of psychiatric disorders. Whilst others have shown that it helps improve anxiety and depression symptoms due to its positive effects on the nervous system.
2. Omega 3-Fatty Acids
Since 70% of the brain is made up of fats, it’s no surprise that a sufficient amount of this nutrient is needed for optimal brain health. Omega 3-fatty acids are particularly crucial when it comes to memory and learning performance. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are two main types of omega 3-fats and are found in fish and other seafood, pasture-raised eggs, and grass-fed meat.
Fish Oil's Affect on Depression
Research led by King’s College London (KCL) found that giving patients with depression fish oil supplementation containing DHA and EPA reduced their symptoms. 152 patients in total had undergone treatment, and the fish oil supplements were found to show significant benefit in alleviating depression in comparison to a placebo. No serious side effects were experienced.
Magnesium is responsible for over 300 chemical reactions within the body, some of which relate particularly to mental health. Like iron, magnesium impacts GABA levels in the brain, stimulating the receptors of this neurotransmitter to promote feelings of calm and relaxation. When magnesium, and subsequently GABA levels, fall low, anxiety is typically increased and it becomes much more difficult to relax. Great sources of magnesium include avocados, bananas, dark chocolate, nuts, and leafy green vegetables.
A meta-analysis conducted in 2017 that looked at 18 studies found that magnesium was a suitable treatment for anxiety. Looking at a range of different circumstances, the report covered studies that involved investigating mild anxiety, anxiety during premenstrual syndrome, postpartum anxiety, and generalized anxiety. It was suggested that magnesium was helpful in reducing such symptoms due to its positive effect on brain function.
A study investigated the link between calcium and depression in 105 Korean Middle-aged women, aged between 41 and 57 years old. They were placed into three groups and results taken from self-reports of questionnaires regarding their feelings of depression, along with taking their serum calcium levels, suggested that low calcium levels led to an increase in depression.
Food and nutrition play an important role in all-around health. This includes mental, as well as physical health. Key nutrients can have an impact on optimizing mood and well-being, as well as preventing the onset of mental health conditions. This article explores four of these important nutrients and the research suggesting that they are critical concerning mental health.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.