The 10th October is World Mental Health Day. The disruption and upset caused by the global pandemic to many people’s lives means that being aware of our mental health and what we can do to protect it has never been more important. Social isolation, living with uncertainty, job losses, adapting to changing circumstances, loss of contact with friends, family, colleagues and teachers, as well as the grief of losing loved ones can all lead to fear, anxiety and depression.
According the World Health Organisation the goal of this year’s World Mental Health Day campaign is increased investment in mental health. As individuals one of the most empowering things we can do is to invest in our own mental health. Here we’ll look at how diet, exercise, lifestyle and supplements can help to support our mental well being.
Diet for Mental Health
Evidence is growing for the relationship between nutritional deficiencies, diet quality and mental health, and for the use of dietary changes and nutritional supplements to improve mental well being (1).
The good news is that highly specialised diets are not necessary for most people as many types of healthy diet improve mental health (2). Here are some ways you can support your mental health through the foods you eat:
- Eat an Anti-inflammatory Diet – high levels of inflammation are associated with an increased risk of depression (3). Anti-inflammatory foods include olive oil, fish, nuts, fruit, vegetables, beans and lentils (4).
- Antioxidant rich foods - individuals who consume a Mediterranean diet high in antioxidants have lower rates of depression (5). Antioxidants rich foods include fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Green tea polyphenols, isoflavonoids from soy, and sesamin from sesame seeds have all been shown to reduce depression and anxiety (6,7,8).
- Think Beans – a low sodium, high potassium diet has a positive effect on mood (9). Potassium is found in lentils, beans, peas, vegetables, cider vinegar, apricots, bananas, dates, figs, nettles.
- Carbs can help – while a low carb diet can aid weight-loss, it may increase cortisol and weight gain around the belly. Skipping meals can also have a negative impact on cortisol in some people. Tom Oliver’s Vegan High Protein Bars are a good snack to carry with you in case of the need for a pick me up.
- Look after your blood sugar levels – having protein and fibre with each meal helps to keep blood sugar and mood stable. are ideal for keeping blood sugar levels stable. Tom Oliver’s Diet Protein can be added to meals or snacks to ensure you get adequate protein.
Foods to Avoid
Sweetened drinks, sugary foods, fried foods and processed meats are associated with an increased risk of depression (4).
The Microbiome and Mental Health
There is increasing evidence for the gut microbiome as a key factor in the link between diet and depression (10).
The gut microbiome is a complex ecosystem of organisms comprising bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses and protozoans that live in our digestive system. These organisms are vital for breaking down food and toxins, making vitamins and playing a role in our immune systems.
More recently it has become clear that the gut microbiota have an important influence over brain development, behaviour and mood. Alterations in the organisms in the gut may contribute to depression and depressive states may change the make up of the microbiome (11,12).
The diversity of the gut microbiome appears to be strongly associated with mood-related behaviours. Eating more than 30 different plant foods each week appears to increase the diversity of bacteria in the gut compared to eating 10 or fewer different plant foods (13). Eating a wide range of plant foods every week could be one of the easiest ways to support your mental health.
It’s possible that pre and probiotic formulations and fermented food could be used in the treatment of mental health disorders. These are referred to as “psychobiotics” - a type of probiotic, that may have a positive effect on the mind. Fermented foods that are rich in pre and probiotics include sauerkraut, kefir, yoghurt, tempeh, miso, kombucha and apple cider vinegar.
Think Positive – positive feelings lead to higher levels of serotonin and negative feelings lead to lower levels.
Go Outside – serotonin levels increase during the brightest time of day and during the summer months. So get outside in sunshine whenever you can.
Light Therapy – also called phototherapy, involves sitting close to a full spectrum light for 30 minutes every morning. These are useful during the winter months when sunlight is less available.
Sleep – a good night’s sleep is vital for brain health. Avoid exposure to bright light and screens in the evenings. Develop a relaxing evening routine and go to bed at a reasonable hour every day. Sleep in the dark in a room that is not too warm.
Exercise – research shows that increased levels of physical activity significantly reduces the risk of depression, even among those who are genetically predisposed to the condition. Try aerobic exercise, dancing, walking, running, yoga – whatever you enjoy (14).
Spend Time in Nature – spending just 2 hours a week in nature has been show to benefit mood and well being.
Get Together – loneliness and isolation are major risk factors for depression. Try to spend time with other people every day even if it is by phone or screen.
The following nutrients from Tom Oliver’s supplement range may help to reduce stress, anxiety and depression (15,16,17):
- Vitamin D plus K2 – evidence suggests an association between vitamin D deficiency and depression.
- Omega 3 fats – important for brain health, hormones and energy.
- Magnesium – needed for energy, the nervous system, blood sugar balance and hormones.
- B Complex – needed for energy production and brain function.
- Vitamin C – needs increase during time of stress or illness.
To find out more about Tom Oliver Nutrition's Vitamin range, click here