Have you ever eaten a huge meal (think: holiday dinners) and felt lethargic and apathetic for the rest of the day (and maybe the next)? Then you have experienced the mood-altering effects of food—on a small scale. But did you know that the food we eat (or don’t eat) day after day has a compounding effect on mental health? That is, your anxiety and depression have a nutritional component! It is difficult to gain control of depression and anxiety without considering nutrition.
You can manage your mental health, in part, through modifying your diet to fit your individual needs. Don’t know your individual nutritional needs? At Bhatia Psychology Group, we are here to help. Unlike mainstream mental and physical healthcare clinics, we understand the connection between the mind and body and the role that nutrition plays in mental health.
Dualism or Integration?
In 1641, French mathematician Rene Descartes penned a treatise to promote his religious beliefs, proposing that the mind and body are separate entities—a theory now called Dualism. Prior to this, most people believed that the mind and body were one. Even if Descartes didn’t achieve his evangelical mission, he did transform Western medical care for the past 350 years!
Much of what you think of when you consider modern Western medical care is premised on the belief that the mind and body are separate. For this reason, you go to an Internist to monitor your bodily organs and a mental health therapist to monitor your mind. Because of this dichotomy, few healthcare professionals recognize the role of physical health in mental disease and vice versa. Meanwhile, the East has largely maintained an integrated view of the mind and body, perhaps preventing chronic diseases—like depression—that are more common in the West.
Neurotransmitter Imbalance and Psychotropic Medication
If you have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression, you likely have been prescribed a psychotropic medication that only tackles the psychological aspect of depression. Developed and popularized in the 1960s, psychotropic medications (such as SSRIs and Tricyclics) sought to address the neurotransmitter imbalance that had been linked to depression and anxiety. Researchers did not know why the neurotransmitter levels were out of whack; that is, they did not understand the source of the problem. Nevertheless, they treated the imbalance through synthetic pharmaceuticals.
For the most part, this is the same standard of care used to treat anxiety and depression today. The only problem is that because these meds do not address the root of the problem, they can lead to some pretty gruelling side effects. Some studies have even proven that they are no more effective than placebos, and may even cause episodic depression. In addition, they may become addictive, or over time you may feel that you need an increased dosage to achieve the same result.
The Gut-Brain Axis
Fortunately, recent research has begun to uncover the root of neurotransmitter imbalances: the gut-brain axis. Researchers have discovered that the gastrointestinal tract and brain communicate through chemical signals. The health of one directly affects the health of the other.
For instance, let’s say you eat a lot of processed foods that are stripped of their natural nutritional value. You may be malnourished or have nutritional deficiencies. The gut may send signals to the brain that you are starving, causing widespread anxiety and depression.
The Microbiome and Depression
One important component of the gut-brain axis is the gut microbiome. Did you know that you are only 10 percent human? 90 percent of the cells in your body are viral or bacterial cells. But many of these bacterial cells are symbiotic; that is, they help you digest food and absorb nutrients. If your balance of bad and good bacteria is off, you will likely be physically and mentally sick. Nutrition directly influences the health of your bacteria.
Researchers have discovered that people with depression have a very different microbiome than their healthy peers. For this reason, taking a psychotropic medication without addressing underlying nutritional issues will do little to manage symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Caffeine, Sugar, and Anxiety
If you have anxiety and depression, steer clear of excess intake of caffeine and sugar. These can cause chronic inflammation, which worsens symptoms of anxiety and depression. Other pro-inflammatory foods that you should avoid include gluten, dairy, and processed foods. Try to eat fresh whole foods as much as possible. Whole foods—especially dark green, leafy vegetables—lower systemic inflammation. Research shows that depression and inflammation are a vicious cycle; they feed on each other and perpetuate one another.
Not only can poor nutrition cause bodily inflammation, but it can lead to nutritional deficiencies that exacerbate depression. Specifically, a deficiency in Vitamin B-12 and Vitamin D—as well as many other essential vitamins—can lead to feelings of anxiety, lethargy, and depression.
For information on mental health and the benefits of psychotherapy, call us at (905) 508-1130 or email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org