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Can Your Diet Make You Mentally Ill?

A new study has found that poor mental health is linked with poor diet quality, regardless of gender, education, age, marital status or income level, according to Loma Linda University Health.

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The study, carried out with California adults, also found that those who consumed more unhealthy foods were also more likely to report symptoms of either moderate or severe psychological distress, Loma Linda said.

Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide, affecting an estimated 322 million people globally, including more than 16 million Americans, 6 million of whom are seniors. More importantly, earlier research shows that nutrition not only is a crucial factor in depression, but one that is overlooked in psychiatry.

Furthermore, studies show that seniors who followed a DASH diet (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) were 11 percent less likely to develop depression over the following six years. It’s worth noting, though, that while many conventional experts recommend the DASH diet, it is not necessarily ideal for optimal health, as it also promotes whole grains and low-fat foods, including low-fat dairy.

Since healthy fats, including saturated animal and plant fats and animal-based omega-3, are quite crucial for optimal brain health, it’s probably the low-sugar and low-processed foods components of the DASH diet that make it work for better mental health.

Another aspect of eating for your mental health is that specific nutrients are essential, too. While there are hundreds of nutrients that are important in this aspect, six or seven dominate, including zinc, copper, B6, folates and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe).

This doesn’t mean, however, that you should just run out and buy a bunch of supplements in an effort to supplement your way to good mental health, as too much of some of these nutrients can sometimes be as dangerous as too little. You need to be sure that you are deficient in a nutrient before you supplement, usually by measuring the levels through a blood test.

Other studies have shown that unprocessed foods, especially fermented foods, help optimize your gut microbiome, thereby supporting optimal mental health, whereas sugar, wheat (gluten) and processed foods have been linked to a greater risk for depression, anxiety and even suicide.

Your gut also communicates to your brain via the endocrine system in the stress pathway (the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal axis), and by producing mood-boosting neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA. These communication links help explain why your gut health has such a significant impact on your mental health.

The bottom line is if you or someone you love is struggling with depression or some other mental health problem, remember that your diet is a foundational aspect that must not be overlooked.

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