I’ve been a Registered Nurse since 2009 and most of my nursing career has been in inpatient and outpatient Psychiatry. In the beginning, I didn’t question why so many people have mental health troubles compared to our ancestors. I myself suffered from depression, anxiety and PMS. Then, I changed my lifestyle. My main goal in changing my lifestyle from traditional western to something more healthy (I didn’t really know what ‘healthy’ meant at first) was to decrease my migraines and brain fog and increase my energy. I found that having a truly healthy lifestyle also managed the depression, anxiety and PMS. So I started to ask more questions, do more research and became a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach.
Why is the rate of all diseases rapidly increasing? Why are kids getting sicker and sicker? What are we doing to ourselves?
In short, we’re overloading ourselves with toxins and destroying our bodies.
Mental health disorders are rapidly increasing:
- Nearly 1 in 4 Americans have some type of mental illness.
- The CDC says that by 2020, depression will rank as the second leading cause of disability, after heart disease. (1) Suicide is now the #10 leading cause of death in the US.
- The rate of adolescents reporting a recent bout of clinical depression grew by 37 percent over the decade ending in 2014 (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161115094549.htm).
- Kids as young as 3 are being diagnosed with mental health disorders! According to this article, “one in five children between the ages of 3 and 17 suffer some form of mental disorder”. (1).
The food and mood connection:
I’m going to jump right into talking about your gut! Gut as in your digestive system. Our gut is quickly becoming known as our ‘second brain’! That’s how important this system is! We all know that the main purpose of our digestive system is to digest our food, but did you know that our gut is also a huge part of our mental health! Huh, you ask?! Many of the hormones affecting our mental health (2
) are produced in the gut. For example, up to 90% of serotonin is developed in our gut. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps send messages from one area of the brain to another in areas “related to mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation, and some social behavior”. (3)
. Serotonin is thought of as responsible for maintaining our mood balance, and when we’re not producing enough it leads to mental health disorders like depression.
One way problems with our mental health arise is if we have leaky gut (aka increased gut permeability) which is caused by antibiotics, Candidiasis, (4)
eating or drinking too much of the wrong things, and stress. With leaky gut, we basically have tiny holes in the lining of our digestive system that let bad germs and actual bits of undigested food pass through. This is how our immune system malfunctions, how many autoimmune diseases and mental health issues develop. Leaky gut leads to Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS, asthma, allergies, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety and more.
Our digestive tract is also home to trillions of ‘good’ bacteria that help keep the bad bacteria at bay.
Bacteria is necessary! Bad bacteria can take over and wreak havoc. Bacterial changes in our gut are shown to lead to anxiety and how we “process emotional information”. (5)
Another issue that’s gaining popularity is Candida. Candida is one of those bad bacteria that we all have. Yes, it’s bad but it’s still necessary…in the right amount. Our good bacteria is there to keep it in check, and when we destroy our good bacteria (with antibiotics, sugar, processed food, etc) it can’t keep it in check anymore and Candida takes over. If you’re a woman who’s been on antibiotics before and then got a ‘yeast infection’ after you completed the antibiotics…that’s Candida overgrowth in the vaginal canal. That’s annoying, but Candida overgrowth in our gut is detrimental! “A group of scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine warned public that a common yeast infection known as Candida could cause schizophrenia and bipolar disorder”. (6)
Another problem is that the western diet has little to no nutrients.
Western dieters are majorly nutrient deficient in every way! How can we really expect any part of our body to function at full capacity if we’re not giving it what it needs? The brain is 60% fat; so guess what the low-fat or non-fat fad did to our brain…it didn’t nourish it and our brain didn’t get the necessary fats. Fat is good as long as it’s the right fat. Another issue is that most of us are deficient in magnesium. This is something that I recommend my clients that they take daily as a supplement because even if we eat a lot of vegetables all day every day, our soil has been depleted of a lot of vital nutrients. Magnesium deficiency can lead to all kinds of problems! If you’re deficient in magnesium you can experience arrythmias, muscle cramps, headaches, seizures, irritability, behavioral disturbances and psychosis (7). The brand of magnesium I recommend is Pure Encapsulations. You’ll want Mag Citrate if you also tend to be constipated or Mag Glycinate if you have regular bowel movements.
I know that a lot of people consider ‘gluten-free’ to be just another fad diet.
Food manufacturers definitely have their fun with the term! Several years ago, I reluctantly eliminated gluten from my diet. Initially, I lasted 3 days before I thought I would die without bread or pasta. So I ate some bread and I was instantly bloated and gassy (sorry TMI). So, naturally I stopped eating it and did more research! The information out there is very contradictory. While I was attending The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, I remember hearing something mentioned about gluten linked to mental health issues. I haven’t gone back through all the modules to find out exactly what they referenced, but I did find this…There is research available dating all the way back to World War II showing that there’s a link between gluten and schizophrenia. This
article explains more about that and also has links to more research about this topic.
Recent studies have shown “the risk of depression increases about 80% when you compare teens with the lowest-quality diet, or what we call the Western diet, to those who eat a higher-quality, whole-foods diet. The risk of attention-deficit disorder (ADD) doubles,” (8
Finally, let’s talk about ADD/ADHD.
From my perspective as a Nurse, Health Coach, and mom I feel that the biggest contributor to the huge increase in the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD is sugar. ADD is pretty much a sugar high all the time! The recommended daily amount of sugar for kids is 11g (give or take depending on kids age). Most kids get 3-4 times this amount! We should all only be consuming natural sugar in whole foods (like an apple or grapes). NOT fruit juice or fruit snacks because these are high in sugar and artificial colors. Artificial colors have also been linked to ADHD/ADD. (9)
Did you know that blue dye in our food is the same blue dye used for our blue jeans?! And that it originates from a coal tar
derivative? This is serious situation, but can also be managed, even reversed, with good nutrition!
What else contributes to a bad mood?
Stress is another major contributor to mental health disorders. According to the Mayo Clinic,
“The long term activation of the stress response…can disrupt almost all of your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including: Anxiety, Depression, Digestive Problems, Headaches, Heart Disease, Sleep Problems, Weight Gain, Memory and Concentration Impairment.”
Fortunately, good food is linked to good mood! Here’s what you can do to help yourself or a loved one:
Eat foods that improve mental health:
I hope this helps shed some light on how you’re able to prevent, improve and even reverse mental health issues. It’s time to take control of your health! Try the tips shared in this post for a week and experience the HUGE difference in your mood.
This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. This article contains affiliate links.