How food can help grow your brain and treat mental illness
The exciting field of nutritional psychiatry, and what you can do to take advantage of its findings.
In Episode 8 of the Applying Awareness Podcast, I discuss how we can use food as a tool to increase cognitive functioning and treat mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
In this article, I’ll do an overview of the exciting findings of nutritional psychiatry, and how you can start eating to grow your brain.
Nutritional Psychiatry is a burgeoning field of psychiatry that study’s how your diet impacts the functioning of your brain. Drew Ramsey, a farmer, psychiatrist, and rockstar has contributed greatly to this field; you can find his work here.
The findings of nutritional psychiatry has shown there’s great potential to use healthy foods with the right types of nutrients as preventative measures and even treatments of mental disorders such as ADHD, depression, and anxiety.
A few of the key findings:
- People eating diets with processed foods are up to 60% more at risk for depression.
- Feeding kids processed foods doubles chance for depression and ADHD
- Kids going from processed -> whole foods experience mental/behavioral benefits in 6 weeks. 50% didn’t meet ADHD guidelines in 6 weeks after the change in diet. 80% of the kids switching to whole foods received better behavior from ratings by parent and teacher.
These statistics were harvested from Drew’s Ted Talk.
So this begs the question: How does our food have such an impact on our mental health?
Mechanisms for food’s interaction with the brain
You see, our Brain uses 20–30% of the calories we consume. The quality of these calories determines the “waste” produced from processing the foods. This waste manifests itself as free radicals, which cause oxidation. If the oxidation isn’t not mitigated by anti-oxidants, it can start destroying tissues, nerve connections, and compromise certain brain functions as a result.
When you eat a lot of processed foods and not a lot of whole foods with anti-oxidants, you get an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals, causing violent oxidation reactions to occur.
Another key way your food influences your brain chemistry (and more specifically, your mood) is through the neurotransmitter Seratonin. Seratonin is yuuuge people. People think of it as the “happy hormone”. But it’s so much more than that. Seratonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. And guess what? 95% of it gets produced in your gut.
What? A neurotransmitter produced in your stomach?
You’re wondering how the hell that works. That takes me into the next major mechanism through which food affects your brain: The Microbiome
The microbiome is the spectrum of bacteria species that help us function correctly. It’s a huge part of us — we actually have more microbial cells than human cells in a ratio of 1.3 microbe cells : 1 human cell.
The exact mechanisms through which the bacteria in our gut affect our brain aren’t quite nailed down yet, but this much is clear:
- Microbes produce the majority of your seratonin if fed the right fuels.
- Microbes in our gut are the primary mechanism for myelination (the process of insulating new neural connections ) which is huge for brain growth.
- There are certain sugars found in breast milk that only the bacteria can digest, and they play a significant part in brain development of young children.
So we need to keep our microbiome happy if we want to keep our brain happy. Seratonin is the molecule that people with depression struggle to manufacture. So nutritional psychiatry is looking in to all the foods that trigger releases of seratonin, lubricate the myelination process, and reduce oxidation.
Foods to eat for brain health
So now that you know how truly interconnected our diet is with our mental health, I’ll give you the five main brain food groups. For deeper explanation on why these foods are good for your brain, listen to Episode 8!
- Leafy Greens and Plants (Especially Kale)
- My favorite brain food: Dark Chocolate!
Runner up: Eggs
So there you have it! Eating good food = support for your brain health through the microbiome and prevention of oxidation. Eat more whole foods and less processed foods to buoy your mood and help mitigate mental atrophy. You can even grow your brain faster with the right foods 😮!
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed, feel free to give it a 👏 or ten 😉.
For more detail on the topic, please check out Episode 8: Food for thought!
I always love to start a conversation! Leave your thoughts in the 💬 comment section.