Everyone knows that eating healthy helps you live longer by reducing risk of a variety of diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. But did you know that what you eat has a huge factor in how your brain functions. A good diet improves cognitive function, prevents Alzheimer's, decreases depression, and lowers anxiety. Your brain is always active, even when sleeping. If you feed it premium fuel, you will get top performance.
The Gut- Brain Axis
The gut and the brain are very closely connected chemically, hormonally and neurologically. This is called the Gut Brain Axis.
Have you ever had a "nervous tummy", the "butterfly's" of excitement? This is an example of the connection of the brain to the gut however, the gut also affects the brain through the production of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Seretonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a very important role in mood, pain, appetite, and sleep regulation. 95% of serotonin is made in the gut and there are approximately 500 million nerves that are located here. The main nerve pathway that connects the brain and the gut is the Vagus nerve.
Your gut microbes
The gut has an entire ecosystem in it made of trillions of microbes. These are natural occurring and are essential in digesting food, helping with immunity, protecting the lining of the gut, decreasing inflammation, and in the production of neurotransmitters. Studies have shown that when people take probiotics (supplements containing the good bacteria), their anxiety levels, perception of stress, and mental outlook improve, compared with people who did not take probiotics. Other studies have compared “traditional” diets, like the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet, to a typical “Western” diet and have shown that the risk of depression is 25% to 35% lower in those who eat a traditional diet. Scientists account for this difference because these traditional diets tend to be high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, fish and seafood, and contain only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy. They are also void of processed and refined foods and sugars, which are staples of the “Western” dietary pattern. In addition, many of these unprocessed foods are fermented, and therefore act as natural probiotics.
Refined sugar probably has the greatest negative effect on mental health in the western world. People who consume high levels of refined sugars or high fructose corn syrups have a significantly higher level of depression, anxiety, as well as increased symptoms of schizophrenia. Sugar suppresses activity of a hormone called BDNF that is low in individuals with depression and schizophrenia. Sugar is also at the root of chronic inflammation, which impacts the immune system, the brain and other systems in the body and also has been implicated in depression.
Sugar is very addictive. We get a great hit of dopamine, a feel good neurotransmitter, every time we eat a lot of sugar. and it stimulates the same center in the brain that is affected by cocaine! We get a "sugar rush", our insulin levels sore and then we crash down afterwards. All of this directly affects our mood and mental health.
Over time, our brain changes due to these chemical changes and studies show that when sugar addiction occurs, depression and anxiety increase with the withdraw of sugars.
Change Your Diet and Change Your Brain
The number one thing to start with when making a change in your diet to help your mental health is to stop drinking pop (including sugar free). There is a direct link with people who drink one pop a day and increased levels of depression and anxiety. Read food labels and start eliminating everything with high levels of corn syrup and other refined sugars.
Secondly you should start adding fatty fish to your diet and get good fats. In studies, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild cold water fish (e.g., salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel), seaweed, chicken fed on flaxseed, and walnuts all have been shown to reduce symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental disorders. This is likely because of the effect omega-3's have on the production of neurotransmitters , including dopamine and serotonin.
Thirdly, a good helping of leafy greens are packed with nutrients that help support the gut and the brain. Selenium, folic acid, and B vitamins are all essential elements in brain function and comes from spinach, broccoli, onions, romaine, mustard greens, and beets.
Taking care of your gut biome is essential and a healthy diet of pro and pre biotic foods help the healthy connection between the brain and gut. Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and cultured yogurts, that are full of prebiotics will help your mental health.
Eat healthy and you will be happier and healthier!
Activity Fact: If you drink one pop a day for a month you ingest 5kg of sugar.
Dr. Mark Perrett
Dr. Perrett is a Canadian-trained chiropractor and has owned a multidisciplinary clinic in Neepawa for the past twenty years. His mission is to keep people active and help them achieve optimal health. He is an avid long-distance runner and enjoys soccer and strength-training. He is on the executive team for the Canadian Chiropractic College Board of Governors, Chairman of the licensing committee for the Manitoba Chiropractors Association, a board member and avid fundraiser for World Spine Care, and is involved in the Canadian Chiropractic Guidelines Initiative. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on facebook (@neepawachiropracticcentre), Instagram (neepawachiropractic) and Twitter (@npwchiro).