How The Chemicals In Our Food Are Leading To Mental Health Disorders
As children, we’re all told we are what we eat. There is certainly truth to this, and eating right offers substantial benefits when it comes to overall health. Our bodies are finely-tuned instruments and it truly matters what we put into them. But, you may not have considered that the food we eat can also greatly impact our mental health, too.
Consider that your brain is responsible for your thoughts, movements, heartbeat, breathing and senses around-the-clock, 24 hours a day. To keep it functioning optimally, it requires a steady source of nutrients. What you put in your mouth has both an immediate and long-term impact on the structure of your brain and how it functions. The brain works best when it is supported by high quality food with the optimal amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. However, an increasing amount of research is showing that an unbalanced diet, high in refined sugars, can greatly impair brain function and worsen symptoms of common mental conditions, like depression.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN MOOD AND FOOD
According to Harvard Health Publications, only in recent years have medical experts acknowledged a clear link between what we eat and how our brains function and how we feel. Today, there is a growing focus on this connection, and the consequences of what we eat, how we feel and our behaviors.
One of the discoveries researchers have made is that there is a connection between bacteria in the gut and brain function. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, as well as balance moods and prevent pain, is largely produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Thus, the production of serotonin is influenced by “good” bacteria in the intestinal microbiome that help us absorb nutrients and activate neural pathways that travel between the gut and the brain. When there are insufficient levels of this bacteria caused by an unbalanced diet, serotonin production decreases, and brain function suffers.
LINKING SUGAR AND DEPRESSION
Sugar has also been shown to suppress a hormone produced in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Individuals with depression and schizophrenia commonly have critically low levels of this hormone. High-glycemic foods, such as those with high-refined grains or added sugar are also linked to higher rates of depression.
ADDITIVES AND OTHER INGREDIENTS THAT CAN NEGATIVELY AFFECT THE BRAIN
Sugar and high-refined grains aren’t the only two ingredients to avoid if you’re struggling with symptoms of mental illness. There are a few common ingredients typically found in processed food that are linked to decreased brain health.
A growing number of researchers are looking at the potential dangers of genetically-modified ingredients. The theory is that they negatively impact gut flora, allowing pathogens to take hold which eliminate the healthy microbes necessary for mental health.
Glysophate, which is an herbicide commonly sprayed on food crops, has been shown to cause nutritional deficiencies which are necessary for healthy brain function. This is leading to many nutritional experts to recommend organic produce, particularly for patients with a history of mental illness. As well, additives such as artificial sweeteners and colorings can impact mood, as well as negatively affect physical health.
SELF-MEDICATING MENTAL ILLNESS WITH ALCOHOL OR DRUGS
Unfortunately, many individuals who struggle with mental illness like depression, anxiety or even schizophrenia use alcohol or drugs to alleviate painful symptoms. This can lead to a devastating cycle that can be very difficult to break. It is also why balanced nutrition is such an important component of addiction treatment. When treated right, our brains have incredible healing ability. Along with eliminating drugs and alcohol, a proper diet can help “reset” the brain. Often, these changes can dramatically improve symptoms of mental illness.