When we talk about our Mental health, what we eat is not usually part of the conversation.
The relationship between nutrition and mental health can be described as the environment required to maintain homeostasis or balance in the body at the cellular level. Our food provides the various nutrients for building neurotransmitters and maintaining cognitive (or brain) function. The brain cells rely on these chemical messengers to transmit thoughts, memories and emotions. The body requires a constant source of raw materials to manufacture neurotransmitters.
Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter which is thought to maintain positive mood and behaviour. Selective Serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI) are a type of anti-depressant medication which aims to increase levels of serotonin in the brain. There are many neurotransmitters in the body with various roles in maintaining mental health function.
The nutrients involved in building neurotransmitters such as Serotonin in the body includes protein, minerals (zinc, copper iron & magnesium), B-vitamins, folic acid, essential fatty acids and vitamin D. How well the digestive system is working is also an important factor in obtaining these nutrients from our food. If digestion and absorption is inefficient, the availability of raw materials for making our neurotransmitters may be reduced. Even if we eat a good diet, Gastrointestinal disease such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) can contribute to malabsorption and possible malnutrition. Eating nutrient deficient processed foods can contribute to the prevalence of malnutrition in western nations as mass production of food decreases quality. Eating a lot of food does not mean we are getting all the nutrients our body and brain requires.
Studies of deficiency in several nutrients has been explored as a possible contributor to the development of mental health problems, but evaluation of the effect of diet on mental health and cognition requires consideration of all food consumed collectively rather than simply individual elements.
Supplementation does not replace a varied and balanced diet in the long term and may possibly contribute to an imbalance in nutrients.
Eating well can support our mental and physical well-being, feeding the body and mind.