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Last Updated: Jan 10, 2023

The Surprising Role of Nutrition in Mental Health

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Dr. K V AnandPsychologist • 21 Years Exp.BASM, MD, MS (Counseling & Psychotherapy), MSc - Psychology, Certificate in Clinical psychology of children and Young People, Certificate in Psychological First Aid, Certificate in Positive Psychology, Positive Psychiatry and Mental Health
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The human body can be compared to a very sophisticated engine that gets its power supply from the food that is eaten. Various organs require fuel for different activities be it walking, standing, stretching or even just regular maintenance where cells are constantly replaced.

The brain is one of the most complex organs in the human body. While it may not do a stretching or a jogging, it constantly needs power supply to function effectively. And as is very obvious, the body reflects the eating patterns. It is not likely that a person eating a very healthy diet would end up obese; nor does a person who is athletic eat a lot of unrefined and processed foods.

The power supply also defines how effectively the organs function, especially in the brain. Good nutrition helps good functioning of the brain. Recent studies have shown that a healthy diet can help avoid mental disorders like depression, schizophrenia problem, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), etc. This field of study is called the nutritional psychiatry.

Listed below are some food substances and how they affect brain functioning:

  1. Carbohydrates: These induce the production of insulin, which causes release of sugar into the body. Increased amount of sugar in the body produces better activity and mood. Tryptophan, a significant neurotransmitter is also released and further enhances mood and well-being. Eating fruits and whole grains, which contain a good amount of carbohydrates is believed to have beneficial effects on the brain, albeit slower in onset.
  2. Proteins:  Foods such as fish, eggs, dairy, greens, peas, legumes are rich in protein and contain amino acids, which are the essential ingredients of the various neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Lack of amino acids like tyrosine can impair production of serotonin, leading to decreased feeling of well-being.
  3. Fats: The gray matter of the brain contains about 50% polyunsaturated fats, and various essential fatty acids are very essential for optimal brain functioning. Decreased levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are shown to cause depression. Decreased levels of Omega-3 also leads to dyslexia and autism.
  4. Minerals: Various minerals are very essential for proper functioning of the brain, though they are required in very minute quantities. Calcium, chromium, iodine, iron, lithium, selenium, and zinc are some of the minerals identified as important for brain function.
  5. Vitamins:
  • B-complex: Vitamin B2 and B6 have been proven to enhance mood and improve cognitive performance.
  • Vitamin B12: In addition to delaying the onset of dementia, it also improves cerebral functioning.
  • Folate: Reduced levels lead to depression and also limit the functioning of antidepressants.

As is evident, nutrition plays a very important role and a little care can help improve brain functioning to a large extent. If you wish to discuss about any specific problem, you can consult a specilized dietitian and nutritionist and ask a free question.


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