As we approach winter, a time filled with darkness and shorter days, it becomes increasingly more difficult to sustain our mental health with sunshine alone. And so as you take a closer look at your mood and mental state I want you to ask yourself this [raw but oh so tactful] question: “Have I been experiencing any of the following for more than 2 weeks?”
diminished pleasure in all [or almost all] activities [esp. those that used to make me happy]
diminished ability to think or concentrate nearly every day
indecisiveness, nearly every day
While these are deep “soul-level” questions, they are important to ask because it is easier than ever in our busy day-to-day lives to overlook or push past persistent sadness or general feelings of lackluster. By building awareness around your mental health trends you can proactively take measures to address imbalances without having to pursue a degree in endocrinology.
Research is indicating with more and more validity that many mood disturbances stem predominately from… INFLAMMATION. Shocked? Me too. Empowered? you should be. And here’s why: inflammation is tangibly mitigated by food and lifestyle design. A growing body of research is looking into why anti- depressants are not permanently curing anxiety and depression. And what they are finding is that the antidepressant is treating a serotonin imbalance when the root of the mood disturbance is deeper seated- mood disturbance; anxiety and depression are all affected and potentially triggered by pro-inflammatory cytokines that slow down the growth of new brain cells. And it doesn’t require a pharmaceutical to treat this inflammation. The treatment begins in the kitchen. There are very powerful foods designed to mitigate the oxidized stress that has been found to spur oxidative stress and inflammation. Further evidence indicates that nutrient deficiencies can lead to chronic depression. Lower levels of omega 3 fatty acids, b vitamins, zinc, magnesium and vitamin D are all linked to lower levels of brain function.
So between inflammation and nutrient deficiencies, food plays one of the larger roles in elevating mental health. And as you support yourself emotionally you unlock your truest potential. So let’s dig in:Dig in!
NUTRITION SUPPORT FOR MENTAL HEALTH:
Omega 3 oils– Not only is omega 3 highly anti-inflammatory, our brain depends on it to function properly. Flax seed, chia seed, walnuts and fish which are all high in omega 3 and easy to find. Aim for 2000 mg of omega 3 per day through food and/or fish oil supplementation.
Bonus tip- decrease oxidative stress by eliminating inflammatory oils from your cupboard including canola oil, peanut oil, and safflower oil.
Complex carbohydrates coming from seasonal vegetables- Besides the brilliant colors and diversified flavor, colorful vegetables offer antioxidant rich source of carbohydrates that allow the precursor to serotonin to enter the brain, which subsequently leads to a rise in serotonin. Strive to consume 6 different colors per day in order to combat inflammation and supply the body with sufficient carbohydrates. The darker leafy greens like kale and chard pack a particularly powerful punch of therapy.
Bonus tip– amplify the impact by adding spices/herbs to your colorful veg intake.
Build consistency into your protein intake – The precursors for both serotonin and dopamine come from amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks to protein. In order to support optimal production of both serotonin and dopamine make sure to ingest protein every 4 hours. The consistency of this protein intake will also regulate blood sugar which has huge implications on squelching inflammation.
The following proteins have the most concentrated sources of L-tryptophan and L-tyrosine- precursors to serotonin and dopamine:
L-tryptophan rich foods [L-tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin]
L-tyrosine rich foods [L-tyrosine is a precursor to dopamine]
nuts / seeds
Vitamin D – First and foremost get your levels of vitamin D checked noting that levels of 50-80 are ideal. Then supplementing as indicated by your physician is paramount to mental health. D deficiency has been shown to have direct correlations with mood disturbances.
Magnesium– Across the board I recommend magnesium repletion either topically or internally. Magnesium acts as a catalyst for the production of serotonin but also the relaxation of tissues throughout the body. Research published in 2015 revealed a significant association between very low magnesium intake and depression, especially in women.
B vitamins– It is wise to consider utilizing a combination of active B vitamins. Just like magnesium, B vitamins act as catalysts to the production of mood regulating neurotransmitters and certain gene mutations prevent food sourced Bs from being utilized rendering our efforts in eating B-rich foods null. One way to check if your genes impact B utilization is by testing for MTHFR mutation.
Cocoa – Without high levels of sugar added to it, cocoa is highly anti-inflammatory. It also contains an amino acid called Phenylethylamine which promotes the secretion of dopamine while also supplying the body with zinc + magnesium + b vitamins. Click HERE to download a beautiful infographic about cocoa. Keep calm and cocoa on!
You are a source of vibrant energy. Don’t let the clutches of inflammation dampen your mood. Eating to unlock joy is plausible when the focus is directed appropriately toward combatting inflammation. In order to take your first step towards eating for mental health, consider making something with cocoa.
To your joy and freedom,
Ellie Kempton, MSN, RDN
Lafourcade, Mathieu, et al. “Nutritional omega-3 deficiency abolishes endocannabinoid-meditated neuronal functions.” Nature Neuroscience 14.3 (2011): 345.
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Turner, Erick H., et al. “Selective publication of antidepressant trials and its influence on apparent efficacy.” New England Journal of Medicine 358.3 (2008): 252-260.
Raison, Charles L., Lucile Capuron, and Andrew H. Miller. “Cytokines sing the blues: inflammation and the pathogenesis of depression.” Trends in immunology 27.1 (2006): 24-31.
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