Nutrition, Lifestyle, and Mental Health

Robin Williams, man. That stinks. What stinks even more is stuff like this happens all the time, we just only hear about it when its someone famous. Mental health problems are ridiculously common. The two most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States aren’t to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, they are both anti-depressants. When I say most commonly prescribed I mean at least 10% of Americans over the age of 12 are on some type of anti-depressant. That breaks my heart. 

Reasons for developing depression and other mental health disorders are multifactorial and I’m not here to claim that proper nutrition and lifestyle can solve all mental health issues but they can certainly make a difference. So see below on how to jump on the happy bandwagon, it’s a lot more fun over here! :) 

Nutrition- You are what you eat. Literally. When you eat and digest food you consume energy, vitamins, minerals, and water. These are then repackaged, and shipped out to give you energy and repair and replace damaged cells in your body. So when you eat crappy food devoid of nutrients you aren’t able to repair or replace cells in the proper way. Sounds like a quick way to sadville. 

This study found improvements in diet quality led to decreases in mental health problems AND decreases in diet quality led to an increase in mental health issues. What did their “unhealthy” foods consist of? Biscuits, potato chips, pies, fried foods, chocolates, lolli pops, sweets, ice cream, and soda. AKA sugar and vegetable oils. “Healthy” included fruits, vegetables, eating meals at home, and avoidance of the above foods. 

Inflammation, in general, increases the risk of depression. So if your diet is pro-inflammatory you are more likely to develop depression. Inflammation-promoting foods in your diet include sugar (including sources of carbohydrates like breads, pastas, cookies, crackers, cakes, pastries, doughnuts, chips, etc.), vegetable oils and trans fats, alcohol, and MSG. Anti-inflammatory foods in your diet include vegetables, fruits, tea, herbs, spices, and omega-3 fatty acids.

The research on the use of omega-3 fatty acids for depression is mixed for many reasons. Here is what I say- when we feel good it is because chemicals in our brain are working right. These chemicals float in between nerve cells. Guess what our nerve cells need to be healthy? Omega-3s. 

But what the heck is an omega-3? It’s a type of fatty acid. Our body cannot make two different long chain fatty acids: alpha-linolenic, an omega-3, and linoleic, an omega-6. (These silly omega-numbers just refer to the position of the first double bond, yay biochemistry!) Because our body cannot make them we must get them in our foods, thus why they are called essential fatty acids. You may also have heard of EPA and DHA, these are two types of omega-3 fatty acids. Arachidonic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid. 

Our brains have high concentrations of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, particularly DHA and arachidonic acid. We need them both, but we need them in the right proportion. In today’s supermarket you’ll find a lot of vegetable oils such as soybean, canola, palm, and sunflower which are high in omega-6s. This throws things out of wack. Let me repeat myself, vegetable oils are wack. High omega-6 and low omega-3 status has been found to increase the risk of depression. So what to do? Dump the toxic sludge that is vegetable oil and bump up your omega-3 intake with flax and chia seeds, walnuts, herring, salmon, sardines, oysters, trout, tuna, and crab. 

Herbs used to make tea have also been shown helpful in the treatment of depression. St. John’s Wort is thought to prevent the re-uptake of serotonin meaning those happy feel-good chemicals hang out longer. Saffron stigma, saffron petal, lavender, echium, and rhodiola may also be helpful. Herbs can interact with medications so definitely consult your doctor before you start anything. 

Stress Less- I’m not a therapist so I’m sure there are far better resources out there to help you with this one but I can tell you what helps me. Whenever I get stressed about something I think about a statistic I heard about a long time ago. I’m not really sure if it’s true or not but I like think it is- 90% of the things you worry about will not actually happen. So if you spend even 1 hour per day worrying, you just wasted 54 minutes and honestly, probably even more. Worrying wont change the outcome. Ask yourself: will this matter tomorrow? A week from now? A year from now? Do things that relax you like deep breathing, petting dogs, looking at pictures of baby pandas, or…

Get Outside- More green space = less stress and less depression. Shout out to my friend Deven researching this right now. More time spent outside also = more Vitamin D, and I just love that little guy. I find staring out at the mountains when I’m hiking makes the the world seem a lot less complicated. Speaking of hiking…

Exercise- Elle Woods from Legally Blonde explains this better than I ever could- ”Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy, happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”

Sleep- Sleep is ridiculously essential yet I find it is more difficult to get people to listen to than is eating properly. Stop saying “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Not sleeping is dangerous and will kill you. It makes you smarter. It regulates the hormones that tell your brain when you are full and when you are hungry. Lack of sleep means too many hunger hormones and not enough full. Sleep deprivation causes depression, depression causes sleep deprivation, its a vicious cycle. Stop it before it gets to you. Most adults need 7-9 hours per night. Make it a priority. Without your health you have nothing.

Laugh- You’re already reading this article so clearly you like funny things. Wanna hear another? What do you do when a dietitian knocks on your door? Vit-am-in! #dietitianjokes. Laughing releases feel good hormones. Smiling does too. Fake it til you make it.

I also want to point out that these aren’t just things that you should be doing after becoming depressed. These are things you should do to assist in preventing depression. Which means doing them every day. Even when it’s hard, even when you feel like you don’t have time, and even when you feel like all you want to do is solve your problems with a large fry and a milkshake. Put the vegetable oil down and walk away. Then tell me about your triumphs. 

Xo
-Pearl

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