Mental Health and the Importance of Nutrition

Mental health and substance use disorders are one of the leading causes of disability globally. This includes an inability to work due to distress; loss of day to day functioning; poor relationships, etc. The two most common areas are depression and anxiety, but lets not forget other disorders including eating disorders, alcohol abuse, bipolar etc.

The birth of Nutritional Psychiatry

Our Naturopath recently attended a course in Nutritional Psychiatry. ‘Nutritional Psychiatry’ refers to 3 overlapping areas – that of diet, brain function, and its relation to mental health. This is such an exciting area of work, with so much amazing research coming out to help with one of the most common, yet hidden areas of healthcare, that of mental health.

Food Matters

Diet is important for everyone, but for mental health it’s huge. Sadly it’s something thats all too often overlooked. Did you know for example, that if you are deficient in essential fatty acids such as omega 3’s, you cannot transport some of the ‘base ingredients’ derived from your food, to the brain. These nutrients are used to manufacture certain brain chemicals, known as neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are critical to balanced moods.

Sadly, our diets are often hugely lacking in the types of foods and nutrients we need for health. Many of us don’t get enough colourful, fibre rich vegetables, whole grains or critical nutrients such as omega 3’s, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc etc. In fact, our diet here in Australia is termed the SAD diet – the Standard Australian Diet. This refers to one which nationally equates to too many refined sugars, flours and processed foods abundant in all manner of colours and preservatives.

Beneficial Nutrients for Better Mental Health

Some of the biggest beneficial nutrients for mental health include: omega 3 fatty acids, B vitamins, Vitamin C, Magnesium, Zinc and herbs such as curcumin (‘turmeric’), which can also lend benefits.

Signs of magnesium deficiency include agitation, headaches, insomnia, depression, anxiety. Deficiency can occur due to an inadequate intake of it, or even poor intestinal absorption or an excessive loss via the kidneys, something that’s common for alcoholics. Magnesium can be found in foods including almonds, dark chocolate (the pure, bitter stuff folks, not the dairy and sugar laden stuff you’ll find at checkouts), pumpkin seeds, avocados and whole grains.

Zinc is another important mineral which can trigger depressive symptoms, so this is another important one to keep at optimum levels. Good sources of zinc include certain seafood, especially oysters, eggs, and wholegrains. Zinc from wholegrains can be difficult to absorb, so its important to ensure that you prepare them properly by pre-soaking, activating them etc. This removes ‘anti nutrients’ that can get in the way of absorbing the good stuff.

If this is of interest to you, we’ll be looking deeper into mental health over coming blogs. Stay tuned!