The idea that food can affect your mental health is not getting enough attention in the media. We are not seeing enough clinical trials confirming what most Nutritional Therapists confirm first hand…that what we eat can play a vital role in Depression.
If your Doctor diagnoses you with Depression then you will most likely start a pill that increases Serotonin levels in the brain. They go by many names, Prozac, Lexapro, Fluoxetine and are all classed as SSRI’s. The long name is Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor but don’t be put off by the long name, it just means that more serotonin is available for uptake by your brain.
Serotonin is mostly made in the gut. It is also synthesised from the food we eat.
So if our gut isn’t working properly or we aren’t eating the right foods to help make Serotonin, its now easier to see how food and mental health are connected. Serotonin is just 1 of over 100 neurotransmitters but its the one that has received the most medical focus over the last number of decades due to its impact on Depression.
Serotonin and Dopamine, two neurotransmitters that make us feel happy and calm or motivated. We make these chemicals from the Protein in our food and we use Vitamins and Minerals to convert them into their usable form. If our diet is poor in certain nutrients, we could find ourselves lower in critical neurotransmitters.
Measuring levels of these neurotransmitters is not possible without performing something called a Spinal Tap. Its an invasive and perhaps unnecessary procedure. Private Labs now offer Urine tests which pick up Metabolites of Serotonin and other neurotransmitters which help us determine if there is a deficiency or not. These tests are available through my clinic.
Blood Sugar Issues
The food we eat is our energy for life. What if the food we eat is stripped of its nutrients and its energy is released very rapidly? Then you can expect that your blood sugar will swing through highs and lows and the food itself wont have the nutrients available to help mediate that blood sugar swing.
If you are messing up your blood sugar regularly, it will start to affect:
- Energy levels
- Sleep Quality.
- Weight – particularly abdominal weight gain
At the end of that road, we see Diabetes and double the risk of Depression. Two separate diseases with seemingly no link but the link is food and how we use the energy from that food.
Coeliac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity
Some food can make us feel sick. You could argue that the Gluten Free diet is just a passing trend and really is only a valid choice for Coeliac Disease, a disease of total Gluten Intolerance.
Coeliacs are at an increased risk of Depression and Anxiety. They can’t absorb important nutrients for mental health because of the damage Gluten has done to their intestines. Conservative estimates for Coeliac disease are approximately 1% of the Irish population, many still undiagnosed.
What if you are not Coeliac, does that mean its ok to eat wheat? Some would argue that non coeliac gluten sensitivity is an earlier sign of Coeliac Disease.
So rather than black and white answers, instead we find more of a health spectrum with Coeliac Disease at the top and Gluten sensitivity/intolerance somewhere below it.
The real question is, if Coeliac disease can cause depression, can Gluten intolerance do the same? If it does, we are now talking about an even larger percentage of the population, conservative estimates at 6%. Studies suggest that depression and gluten sensitivity can also go hand in hand.
On a personal level, I found giving up wheat was like lifting a fog. I walked out of the fog and started to feel something again and this happened in the space of days and never returned. So yes, I am that guy that refuses Birthday cake with no regrets.
Food Allergies, Food Intolerances and Depression
It comes as quite a shock to some, the idea of depression being caused or aggravated by a food allergy. Actually the two have been linked since at least the 1930’s. Albert Rowe, M.D, coined the term ‘Allergic Toxemia’. This describes a syndrome that included symptoms of depression, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, drowsiness, difficulty in concentrating and nervousness.
We are now starting to find explanations as to how these seemingly disconnected symptoms all begin in the gut. More on this in later posts.
Although the term Allergic Toxemia is no longer used, food allergies and intolerances, still play a role in depression and so many other diseases.
In my clinic, I help people navigate the confusing world of nutrition. I believe the most effective way to combat Depression is a multi pronged approach. In my Mind Body Program, I bitesize this info into manageable chunks covering Diet, Exercise and other effective therapies. Change can be difficult at these times but still possible.