Can the foods we eat really make a difference in the way we feel?
Time and time again, we read and hear about articles that claim that certain foods can have a positive impact on our bodies, our energy, and our minds. Headlines scream from the front page of magazines, “10 Foods to Boost Your Energy!” and “Eat Your Way to a Better Mood!” as we go about our day grabbing coffee, waiting at the dentist, or walking home from the bus stop. But at the end of the day, how much legitimacy do those articles hold to their claims? Can the types of food we eat really have an impact on our emotional state of mind, our mental health?
According to a growing number of studies in the subject, nutrition does play a significant role in the improvement and maintenance of good mood and mental health. Furthermore, a growing number of mental-health professionals are taking a more holistic route in treating patients and including nutrition and diet as part of their treatment for mental illnesses, even for such cases as depression and schizophrenia.
But how does food have anything to do with depression? Furthermore, how can eating a more nutritional diet affect better mood and mental health?
The answer is in the physiology of the brain.
When we think about the brain, we tend to think of it in regards to what it does and what it can do. The brain allows us to live. The brain makes it so we can learn. However, though we admire the brain for its function, we hardly think about the brain in its physical sense.
The brain is a highly complex organic material made up of neurons, ganglia, the thalamus, and other such parts. However, on a more fundamental level, the brain is made up of the same organic materials we encounter every day like water, salt, protein, and vitamins, such as vitamin B. When we learn something new, a complex exchange of magnesium, potassium, and calcium ions occur between our neurons, the same potassium and calcium that we find in bananas and milk.
It is the same way with the chemicals serotonin and dopamine, which affect mood in our brains. Many of the same vitamins and proteins that go into the production and release of these hormones are the very same nutrients that we get from our food. Therefore, when we don’t eat the right amount of certain nutrients to sustain the physical health of the brain, we starve the brain and cause it to work in ways that hinder its processes. This can cause mental fatigue, less tolerance in effectively handling stress, and lower mood.
Nutrients and Elements of a Healthy Brain
Of the many nutrients and elements that go into sustaining a healthy brain, here are some of main ones.
Sixty percent of our brain is fat and requires a diet rich in fatty acids. Good fats, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, protect brain cells and ensure that the brain functions at its best. Some studies have shown people who took Omega-3 supplements experienced better mood, and some clinicians have prescribed Omega-3s to people suffering from schizophrenia as a way of reducing incidences and severity of psychosis.
Vitamin B-6, Vitamin B-12, and Folic Acid
Vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, and folic acid play a crucial part in the metabolic processes that affect the health and production of essential proteins and blood cells. They also are related to the chemical dopamine, which plays a significant role in affecting mood and pleasure. Increasing intake of these vitamins can help patient response to medicines treating depression, and may cause people suffering from schizophrenia to feel some relief from symptoms.
Magnesium is a nutrient that helps the body produce energy and ensures that the heart and muscles work properly. Currently there are studies researching whether magnesium can also decrease recovery time from depression.
Tryptophan is a protein that is used to produce serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical that affects mood and can cause depression when a person has low serotonin levels.
Tips for Eating for a Healthy Brain
Though it can sound like a broken record, eating healthy is still one of the best thing we can do for our bodies. And it’s not just for our waistlines but also for sustaining good mental health. Here are some tips from RiverWest Acupuncture to consider:
Drink lots of water.
The brain is roughly 70-75% water and needs enough fluids to work optimally.
Eat lots of dark and leafy greens.
They provide a good source of magnesium, folic acid, and iron.
Include red meat and dairy.
If you happen to have a strict vegetarian or vegan diet then more research will have to be made into soy products that can be substituted. However, red meat and dairy are a great source of vitamin B-12 and tryptophan.
Consider eating more portions of fish.
Seafood and fish are an excellent source of Omega-3s and vitamin-B.
Here at Riverwest Acupuncture, we care more than just about our clients receiving acupuncture. We care about their overall health, both mental and physical. Though we focus on providing healing through acupuncture, we also know the importance of having fun, eating well, exercising, and relaxing. Riverwest Acupuncture knows that achieving good mental health can be a challenge; however, diet can help meet those goals and improve the way we feel.
Sources: Serotonin, Diet, Whole-Body, and Nutrition
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