Back as far as the early 20th century Doctors were contemplating and studying our diets’ effect on, as they referred to it then, malaise and melancholia.
Unfortunately, at that time they referred to the microbiome as toxic. Now we know that our guts host a diverse colony of bacteria called the “microbiome”. But they were right about one thing: what we eat affects how we feel, not just physically but equally important, mentally!
Researchers are still figuring out the exact gut-brain connection, but they do know people who eat a plant heavy diet have more diverse gut bacteria and these bacteria make various chemicals that influence our mood. Fiber ferments in the gut and creates short-chain fatty acids.These regulate the immune system and influence gene expression in the brain and elsewhere throughout the body. Eating healthy fats increases production of proteins called neurotrophins that act as fertilizer to produce new brain cells. So, the connection between diet and mental health is certainly important.
Studies are showing the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is associated with reduced depression in adolescent girls, which is encouraging as half of all mental illnesses start in the teen years. The DASH diet emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables. It contains lean protein, healthy fats and is low sodium. Check out dashdiet.org for more information.
Of course, no diet is a cure for mental illness. But food can be considered medicine along with other therapies. So don’t underestimate how it could help with your physical and mental health!
Kathleen Weaver-Zech and Dean’s Team Chicago