Another important factor in dealing with mental illness is low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). When our blood sugar level drops lower than is optimal, we can feel anxious, nervous, depressed and angry. Excitotoxins that kill neurons are produced during hypoglycemia. Daily bingeing on sugar not only causes low blood sugar; it also repeatedly releases dopamine, a feel good chemical, in the brain; this eventually results in fewer dopamine receptors and a need for greater amounts of sugar to feel good.
To prevent low blood sugar it is important to eat good quality animal protein and animal fat at every meal, and to never skip meals. When we eat sugar, especially between meals, or on an empty stomach, we are likely to experience low blood sugar an hour or two later. If you do like to eat sweet things, have them at the end of a meal, and eat them in moderation. If you feel hungry between meals, it is best to eat something like cheese, eggs, meat or nuts, not a candy bar or pastry. These nutrient-dense foods will help keep our blood sugar stable – putting us on an even keel both physically and emotionally.
In Part 1 we touched on how diet and digestion affect our mental health. In Part 2 I’d like to focus on how inflammation is now understood to underlie most mental illness, including depression. Escalating inflammation in the body and brain is one of the major consequences of the SAD. Chronic low-level inflammation contributes to depression and cognitive decline. What are some of the factors causing inflammation in the body?
- Poor-quality foods
- Physical inactivity
- Increased gut permeability
- Lack of sleep
- Toxic exposures
- Vitamin D deficiency
We are all familiar with the inflammation that occurs as a result of an injury and how the body’s natural immune response helps us to heal from injury and infections. However, if this inflammatory response is chronic, cell immune secretions remain turned on all the time. These cells produce proteins called cytokines that contribute to depression and the breakdown of nerve cells. People who experience major depression have increased levels of inflammatory cytokines that, in turn, negatively affect neurotransmitter function.
Certain foods called “dietary stressors” trigger these inflammatory responses in the body. Refined sugars are one example. Other food, like fresh berries and herbs like turmeric and ginger, can quench the fires of inflammation. Stimulating the anti-inflammatory cytokines can improve depressed mood and increase treatment response to conventional antidepressant medication by counterregulating production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Stress is also a cause of inflammation and depression. Relaxation decreases the inflammatory response. The elimination of sugar helps to stabilize mood and also reduces cytokine production and thereby reduces systemic inflammation. So, you are depressed or not, it makes sense to reduce stress, eliminate inflammatory foods and increase anti-inflammatory foods.
Diet and Mental Health
How do I lift my mood?
How do I increase my energy and feel productive and stable throughout the day?
I have been anxious for so long. How can I feel more relaxed?
Many people believe that diet has little to do with mental or emotional health. Yet hundreds of research studies prove that nutrient deficiencies and imbalances adversely affect the way we think and feel. In this blog series I will look at some ways nutrition impacts mental health. As a result of my training to be a Nutritional Therapy Consultant (NTC) by the Nutritional Therapy Association (NTA) I am convinced there is no longer any justification for not addressing the whole person when treating mental disorders. The new fields of “nutritional psychology” and “nutritional psychiatry” attest to the growing interest in a more integrative approach to mental health care. Let’s begin by looking at diet and digestion.
A nutrient-dense, properly-prepared, whole food diet is essential to mental and emotional health in the same way it is to physical health. The World Health Organization has long said that “there is no health without mental health.” We now know the opposite is also true – that physical and mental health should be considered two sides of the same coin. In this sense, the same dietary and physical activity recommendations that are made to prevent and treat common physical diseases are also relevant for mental disorders.
You’ve heard that the Standard America diet (SAD) makes us sad. This diet consists of overly processed foods containing refined sugars in fruit juices and sugary drinks, and highly refined rice, pastas, and flours used in breads and bakery goods. These processed products are loaded with chemicals and synthetic preservatives, hormones, antibiotics, and food colors that are known to alter our mood. This type of diet is a prime contributing factor resulting in health complaints for many people. The SAD diet makes us SAD because it does not provide the nutrients our brain and body need to function well.
You’ve heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” I’d like to suggest, instead, that “You are what you digest.” Scientists and health practitioners have discovered that, in addition to an optimal diet, good physical and mental health require proper digestion. Both our brains and bodies need certain raw material in order to function at their best. However, even an optimal diet will do us little good if our body is not able to use these raw materials properly.
Digestion and intestinal health are important because we must be able to absorb nutrients from the food we eat in order to benefit from them. Proper stomach pH is needed to create amino acids, the precursors to neurotransmitters. Our small intestine must be able to absorb micronutrients and synthesize the neurotransmitters that affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, carbohydrate cravings, and addictions. Deficiencies in these neurotransmitters have been also shown to contribute to depression, pain, anxiety and insomnia. Our liver and gall bladder must be working properly in order to produce bile to digest healthy fats and the fat-soluble vitamins necessary for physical, mental and cognitive health. The large intestine must be able to move food along the digestive tract and eliminate waste, including toxins. Proper bowel flora is needed to produce Vitamin B12, a vitamin essential for optimal mental health.
Scientists and health practitioners have discovered that good health, including mental health, begins in the gut. When we have plenty of beneficial gut flora, these microorganisms produce feel-good chemicals that help our brains function properly. When the intestinal tract is populated by an overgrowth of candida and pathogenic fungi, these microorganisms produce neurotoxins that can cause mental health symptoms. Also, when the gut is “leaky,” undigested proteins that have drug-like effects get into the bloodstream, often causing symptoms of mental illness. Very often a return to stable mental health involves adopting a diet that can heal the gut and repopulate the digestive tract with friendly micro-organisms.
DNMS stands for Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy and is a therapeutic model used to treat many psychological disorders. This powerful and deeply transformative approach can heal present day problems that have their roots in childhood. It was developed by Shirley Jean Schmidt, MA, a Licensed Professional Counselor and author of “The Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy: A Model for Healing Adults with Childhood Attachment Wounds.”
It is designed to resolve trauma and attachment wounds resulting from unmet childhood needs. Trauma wounds are the fallout of abuse and attachment wounds are the legacy of neglect, rejection, or enmeshment.
The DNMS borrows from clinically proven techniques as well as the latest advancements in neuroscience.
It gives equal importance to bad things that happened, such as abuse, and good things that did not happen like nurturing.