Can we eat our way into a happier mind?
Today is World Mental Health Day. Most of us have suffered or know someone who’s suffered with mental health in some way. Depression affects an enormous 150 million people worldwide, and that number is only expected to increase in time.
We’ve probably all heard at some point that a well-balanced lifestyle filled with exercise and healthy eating can lift our mood. But what actually causes depression in the first place?
First, let’s explore the link between inflammation and depression.
Julius Wagner-Jauregg, a psychiatrist who crossed over the 19th and 20th centuries suggested inflammation had a direct link to depression, and to this day is still the only psychiatrist to ever win the Nobel Prize. As time pressed on and research in this area increased, further evidence showed links between inflammation and depression, such as those suffering allergenic conditions being more affected than those around them with no symptoms.
The World Health Organisation has even gone on to state that mood disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide, and one such study published by Elsevier states the clear correlation between changes in mood and inflammation.
Ok, great. But what does this have to do with the food we eat?
Well, perhaps the food we eat can help manage the inflammation our bodies experience. By eliminating animal- based products and incorporating foods high in anti-oxidants, we may be able to reduce the causes of depression.
Researchers followed around 43,000 women for 12 years, all of whom had no experiences suffering with depression at the time the study began. Those who ate a much more inflammatory diet, high in meat/dairy and sugar packed foods were far more likely to suffer with depression than those who didn’t.
The monoamine theory – the traditional explanation of how depression works – in short, relates it to a chemical imbalance in the brain. This theory suggests that a high level of enzymes and low level of monoamine neurotransmitters causes this imbalance.
But throw a handful of berries, grapes and apples into your diet and you’re already on the road to inhibiting this enzyme – the destroyer of all happiness. In fact, these phytonutrients can be found in green tea and a number of spices, like cinnamon, cloves, oregano and nutmeg.
Top that off with a number of anti-inflammatory foods such as ginger, turmeric, black pepper, kale, spinach, almonds and walnuts and you’re well and truly fighting against the causes of depression. And this is just a small number of the plant-based foods that could potentially improve your mood.
Evidence suggests those avoiding meat and dairy products in cross-sectional and interventional studies show fewer symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, noting higher anti-oxidants in their blood levels. It would seem eating much more fruit and veg can indeed help you feel happier on a day to day basis.
Does this mean that we’ll never get depressed again by simply eating a whole foods, plant based diet? Of course not. It’s possible we’re a product of our environment, and our environment could in fact be causing our depression. Some would also suggest depression is hereditary and passed on through our genes, so how can we truly escape it?
We’re all unique, and mental health is a topic we may never fully understand, but if evidence suggests we can better our chances, why not give it a try. If we know the power of plant-based foods may help us feel just that little bit better, is it not worth it?
Healthy food leads to a healthy you, in body and mind.
Take a look at our suggestions for including more greens in your diet and help with recipes by clicking here.