The body and mind are intrinsically connected. While Western medicine treats the body as a group of separate parts that function independently of one another, the truth is that our bodies are holistic organisms that need attention paid to the entire biological system as opposed to its various parts. This includes the mind and emotions, which can benefit from a holistic, nutritional approach to self-care.
When it comes to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and stress, your diet can greatly help these conditions by decreasing your symptoms and putting you on a quicker path to recovery.
The Body-Mind Connection
Your body is not a series of separate systems that operate independently. Instead, all of your body’s systems are intertwined, controlled by the brain and nervous system. In fact, multiple scientific studies have shown just how strong a connection there is between the body and mind.
How Emotions Affect Biology
Once thought to be purely emotional, it turns out stress has significant physiological effects on the body. When people are put in a situation they perceive as threatening, they experience what is known as the stress response. While the stress response begins in the brain, it quickly spreads to the rest of the body, releasing chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol. When you continuously have high levels of stress hormones, your body is affected, especially your glucose metabolism, blood pressure regulation, immune function, and inflammation. This is why stress and heart disease are firmly linked.
How Biology Affects Emotions
If your emotions can affect your biology, then it makes sense that the opposite can happen as well, and biology can affect emotions. While we used to think depression and anxiety were only about mental and emotional health, scientists have come to realize that mental health conditions are biological.
According to University of Massachusetts Medical School Professor Anthony J. Rothschild, depression involves many biological factors including neurotransmitter levels, receptor malfunction, and chemical balance. Literally, when you are depressed, your brain’s biology is not working correctly: either the chemicals are out of balance or something is not functioning correctly. Medicine for depression helps fix these issues in the brain and relieve depression in patients.
Food as Medication
If medicines can help your depression, can the way you eat have a similar effect? Many foods do affect the brain’s neurotransmitter systems, increasing levels of chemicals that your brain is low on when you suffer from depression and anxiety. Also, depression and anxiety bring symptoms of fatigue and stress along with them. Eating foods that help those symptoms make it easier to get through a depressive episode or seek help through medication and therapy.
Eating for Mental Health
How can you eat to combat depression and anxiety? Here are some suggestions.
1. Eat a healthy, plant-based diet.
If your body chemistry is off, chances are your brain chemistry is, as well. Not only that but when you physically feel terrible, it can negatively affect your emotional state.
Eating a plant-based diet like the one I outline in The Beauty Detox Solution will help you create the ideal environment in your body for vibrant good health. Additionally, the diet offers foods for energy that can help combat other problems that may lead to anxiety or depression, including exhaustion, body aches, and excess weight.
2. Cut out the chemicals and eat organic.
Human beings were not meant to eat all of the chemicals we consume in the form of additives, preservatives, artificial flavorings, and artificial colorings. All of these ingredients increase toxicity in our bodies, which can affect both mental and physical health.
3. Choose hormone-free foods.
If you’re eating dairy, eggs, or animal proteins, then chances are you’re also eating the hormones and antibiotics ranchers use to increase growth, improve milk production, and keep the animals from getting sick. Hormonal imbalances can significantly affect mental health, so avoiding foods that probably contain them can help you avoid this problem.
4. Avoid caffeine and sugar.
These stimulants may give you a little kick of energy to start, but they ultimately drain your serotonin, which is a necessary “feel-good” brain chemical.
5. Eat a varied diet of brightly colored fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin deficiencies can lead to stress, tension, depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. By selecting a variety of colorful plant foods, you can ensure you are getting the vitamins and minerals you need for optimal mental and physical health.
6. Cut out gluten grains.
Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, and some oats. It is also present in many other foods such as soy sauce. For many people who are sensitive to gluten, consuming it causes a reaction that damages the nutrient absorbing villi in the small intestines. This hampers the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, which can lead to significant nutritional deficiencies.
7. Eat healthy fats.
With such an emphasis on “fat-free” and “low-fat” in Western food culture, many people fail to realize that fat plays an important role in our bodies. It assists in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fatty acids also play a significant role in brain health. In fact, a 2007 study showed just how important fatty acids were when researchers showed a link between Omega-3 fatty acids and protection against Parkinson’s disease. The trick is in obtaining the right types of fats for good mental health. These include fats in raw nuts and seeds, avocados, and coconut oil. Eat plenty of these foods to protect your overall brain health, particularly those containing Omega-3 fats like chia and flaxseeds.
Make sure you’re getting all the nutrients from your food. Help your digestion with Solluna’s Feel Good Digestive Enzymes.
8. Support your thyroid.
Low thyroid function is linked to depression, while high thyroid function is linked to anxiety. Providing thyroid support is essential for maintaining good health. Coconut oil, almonds, Brazil nuts, and sea vegetables all contain nutrients that support thyroid health.
9. Get vitamin D.
According to the Vitamin D Council, low serum levels of vitamin D can lead to anxiety or depression. Many people can get the vitamin D they need from the sun; however, in some northern locations or in the winter, vitamin D levels go down. Consider supplementing vitamin D for optimal mental health, and try to spend at least 10-20 minutes in the sunlight without sunscreen each day. While overdoing sun exposure can lead to issues like skin cancer, in small doses, there is a lot of healing power in the natural light of the sun.
10. Avoid alcohol.
Alcohol serves as a depressant and can heighten depression and anxiety. If you suffer from these conditions, limit or cut out alcoholic beverages altogether.
Our collection of recipes gives you plenty of options for healthy, plant-based, and/or organic dishes, smoothies, and treats for your diet.
Better Mental Health – The Natural Way
If you suffer from depression or anxiety, there are natural steps you can take to supplement your other treatment methods. Eating better will not only boost your energy and mood so you can fight for your mental wellness, but it can also directly help your brain function properly.
Following a plant-based diet and ensuring adequate intake of Omega-3 fats, vitamins, and minerals may just put you on the path to better mental health, and more overall wellness and beauty.