Words by Karen Newby, BSc Nutritional Medicine and Alchemy founder
In Ayurveda the mind is very much treated as part of the body; with the knowledge that it has a huge effect on it, and vice versa. In Western medicine mental health is often seen as something completely separate to the physical. We can see this through diet – if the brain isn’t nourished, like all organs in the body, it starts to become out of balance. You only have to look at stress and what effect this has on brain function and how this manifests in the body to see how important it is to nourish our minds.
1 in 6 of us in the UK has a mental health problem and a half of all mental illness is established by the age of 14.
I work a lot with patients with depression and anxiety. As a nutritional therapist we focus on food and work with other specialist practitioners were necessary to bring about change. The first port of call is always the gut which includes plenty of plants and fermented foods to help create the right environment for beneficial bacteria to grow. The body makes most of it’s serotonin here, the ‘happiness’ neurotransmitter. The gut is the second brain-there’s a reason why we have that ‘gut feeling’ as it’s home to the most nerve endings outside of the central nervous system.
Next is protein – especially tryptophan and glutamine, which is the precursor of GABA, a calming neurotransmitter, all found in lean meat, poultry, nuts, seeds, avocado.
Minerals such as iron (spinach, lean meat), zinc (pumpkin seeds, prawns, lean beef) and selenium (any organic veg and Brazil nuts) are all needed too.
Our brains are made up of 60% essential fatty acids so oily fish at least 2x a week or a Omega 3 supplement is essential brain food. Opt for small fish such as mackerel, trout, salmon to minimise mercury.
Sugar is a real problem – it excites dopamine – the reward centre of the brain which can then make us addicted to that feeling and to sugar. It’s different from serotonin, which creates feelings of happiness. Sugar crashes can also exacerbate low mood as well as anxiety too.