Every year 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem, some of these may only last a few weeks but others may suffer for much longer. Although there are lots of treatment options out there, research suggests that making lifestyle and dietary changes can improve our mood and general feelings of wellbeing.
Our gut, and by that we mean anything from our mouth all the way down to our colon contains the second largest network of nerves after our brain. It is well known that an extensive signal pathway exists linking our gut to our brain allowing them to constantly provide feedback to each other.
This complex system of signals relay information between the gut and the brain and can influence our mood, feelings of stress, hunger and appetite, and in some cases can lead to short-term depression. Although our understanding of how these two organs interact is in the early stages, studies suggest that they are linked by our immune and nervous systems. Have you ever felt that flutter in your tummy before an exam or a big presentation at work? This is just one example of how our brain and gut talk to each other.
By total cell count, we are more bacteria/virus/fungi than human. These tiny colonisers have an incredible impact on our lives – from creating 90% of our serotonin (the happy hormone) to determining how much we weigh. All of which adds up to make them an enormous contributor to our mental health – and studies are now beginning to prove these links. Last year a major study suggested a direct link between our diet and our emotional health.
Improving our diet can help to give us energy, improve feelings of wellbeing and help you think more clearly. This research suggested that eating a diverse and varied diet – especially one which is high in fibre from wholegrain foods, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds can significantly improve mental health. In contrast a diet high in refined sugar and processed foods may inhibit the development of serotonin our ‘happy’ hormone – which over a long period of time can start to impact on our mood.
Top tips to improving your gut health:
-Aim for at least 5 pieces of fruit and vegetables a day (fresh, frozen, freeze dried and tinned all count)
– Eating the right fats – oily fish, nuts and seeds. Try to avoid highly processed foods and foods high in saturated fats
– Try to avoid foods high in refined sugar, such as cakes, biscuits and alcohol
– Stay hydrated – aim for 6 to 8 drinks per day and thins can include, water, tea, coffee and smoothies
If you are at all worried about your mental health speak to a friend or family member or contact your GP. It may take time for you to start feeling happier and healthier again but by making small and steady improvements, including changing your diet are all steps in the right direction.