Anxiety, depression & the food link
Have you ever considered that Anxiety and Depression can be linked to the food you eat, or perhaps don’t eat? Think about this statement, “Every structure and function of the human body is run by nutrition”. Let me say that again “EVERY structure and function of the human body is run by nutrition”. Let's consider this in a different way. Would you put petrol in a diesel car? I would say no because it wouldn’t run properly. A petrol car is not meant to run on diesel, and if made to do so it would not run for long before having issues. This is the same concept for the human body.
Chemical messages in the brain help us to act appropriately to life events and these chemical messengers need certain nutrients to run, just like a car needs the proper fuel to run. If these nutrients are not available, then our bodies do not run optimally and can lead to all sorts of disorders, mood being one of them.
A brief overview on how these messengers work:
Neurons are cells within the nervous system that transmit information to other nerve cells, muscles, or glands. Neurons secrete neurotransmitters, which are the chemical messengers that allow the transmission of signals from one neuron to the next. They can excite or inhibit neurons (these are called excitatory (stimulating) and inhibitory (non stimulating) neurotransmitters). Each neurotransmitter can directly or indirectly influence neurons in a specific portion of the brain, thereby affecting our behaviour.
Some common neurotransmitters are acetylcholine, norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). Acetylcholine and norepinephrine are excitatory neurotransmitters while dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and GABA are inhibitory. These specific transmitters help to create the “chemistry of emotion” and are responsible for the depth of moods, depression, anger management, problem resolution, and energy & activity levels.
For our neurotransmitters to be in balance we need to provide our body with the correct nutrients, our digestive system needs to be working properly and our blood sugar needs to be in balance which then allows the consistent flow of glucose (brain food) to the brain. Then, when we are faced with less than ideal situations in life we can process it and move on. If however these nutrients aren’t available this may create mood disorders.
What roles do these neurotransmitters play in the body and what nutrients do they need to function properly:
Involved in mental energy and long-term memory
Good quality protein sources
Remove all sugar and processed foods as these particularly deplete norepinephrine.
Stimulation of muscles
Choline (Eggs, liver, and peanuts along with meat, chicken, fish & dairy), B5, B6 & B12 (good quality protein sources)
Has potent analgesic (pain-relieving) properties and mediates negative mood patterns
Chocolate (75% and above dark chocolate) and chilli are known foods to help release endorphins
Exercise, laughing, listening to music (anything that makes your heart sing) are important for the release of endorphins.
GABA (Gamma Amino Butyric Acid)
Loads the receptors required to activate a panic response and enhances the brain’s ability to calm itself
Butyric acid (butter from grass fed cows), soaked almonds & walnuts, beef liver, high quality protein.
A powerful vasoconstrictor and has involvement in perception processes
5-HTP (5 Hydroxytryptophan). The amino acid tryptophan, which the body uses to make 5-HTP, can be found in turkey, chicken, milk, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, turnip and collard greens, and seaweed.
Facilitates many critical brain functions
Responsible for fine motor control, pleasure, and sexual arousal
B Vitamins (especially B12 & B6) ((good quality protein sources), selenium (good quality protein sources, brazil nuts, tuna & sardines)
Reduce/eliminate caffeine as it can inhibit the production of dopamine
Some of the foods that will deplete the neurotransmitters of the appropriate nutrients are, processed foods, hydrogenated oils, sugar, refined carbohydrates and gluten to name a few. There can be many others, especially if you've had a poor diet over a long period of time, this can cause many issues within the body and developing food sensitivities can be one of them.
Our digestive system needs to be working at an optimum level to be able to process and digest the nutrients so they can be utilised by the neurotransmitters. Inflammatory foods (as above) can cause the digestive system to become weak and to function less than optimally, therefore losing nutrients (if in fact we are eating well enough to get them) through things like diarrhea, leaky gut, poor liver and gallbladder function etc.
“What about antidepressants or antianxiety medication, can't I take these to help my anxiety and depression”? Yes you can, and these medications can be helpful to get you through a very difficult time. But just remember that they are a band aide and come with many side effects, you need to work out the “why”. Why is the most important question of all! Why is my body aching all the time, why don’t I feel well, why am I lacking energy, why am I angry all the time, why don’t I want to go out with my friends, why does my heart race? There can be so many different reasons for this, and a lack of essential nutrients can be an essential part. Wouldn't it be great to feel well again just by altering the foods you eat, instead of taking medication which could possibly lead to further complications down the track. I encourage you to ALWAYS ask why when seeing your health professional, after all, it is your body and your right to know why!