Why micronutrients are essential for your mental health
We may be well-versed in the things nutrition can do for the way we look, such as maintaining a great physique, and we also know what a full, nutrient rich diet can do for our insides, keeping those organs ticking. But how often do we stop to think about what nutrition does for the way we - well - think?
Lately, it seems like we've grown more aware of the manner in which modern life is a perfect recipe for burnout, stress, and overstimulation. It is natural that impossible demands on our time and energy are overwhelming for our state of mind too, leaving us feeling mentally exhausted and depleted.
Still, while we're busy striving to offset the physical burdens of our lifestyles, signing up to the latest gym class or cutting down on sweets, we don't always give the same amount of consideration to that mental part of our wellbeing.
Yet a growing discussion of this topic has made clear that there is no health without mental health. Just as we take daily measures to physically protect ourselves against harm and look after our bodies, so too do the small choices we make every day influence our peace of mind.
In the US a staggering one in five people will experience an issue with their mental health in any given year, according to the National Association on Mental Illness. While any physical ailment affecting millions of Americans would very much factor into people's awareness, it's common for folk to still overlook the importance of not just getting help when mental health issues raise their head, but to also take preventative measures to support our general psychological wellbeing long term.
From belly to brain
While our understanding of the brain is constantly evolving, research strongly indicates that there is a powerful connection between it and our digestive system. Various studies in the last ten years have found a link between poor diet and poor mental health and, on the other hand, how adjusting nutritional intake can improve psychological health even in the case of serious challenges like bipolar disorder. In other words, what we eat has an increasingly intriguing association with how we feel, think and behave.
Just like any other organ, the brain needs a particular recipe of vitamins and minerals to function effectively. While this relationship may be more complex than those between micronutrients and, say, the heart, diet can still act as a cornerstone when building towards good mental health alongside other lifestyle elements.
Luckily, unlike a lot of other lifestyle factors that influence your mental wellbeing, making sure that your brain is getting all its required nutrients is a simple matter of information and supplementation. That is, being informed about what you should be consuming and then supplementing where necessary to meet those needs.
But how exactly do micronutrients help your mental health?
Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and nearly 20 percent of Americans suffer from some form of anxiety problem. But B-complex vitamins are important tools in helping people cope with these illnesses and a deficiency in B vitamins is often linked to a rise in levels of both anxiety and depression. Take Vitamin Bl for example, which is the secret to fueling your brain, allowing it to convert blood sugar into energy. Without it and its close cousin, Vitamin BS, you'll find yourself feeling fatigued, irritable and anxious and a Vitamin Bl deficit can even affect your memory, cause insomnia and, yes, elevate your risk of depression.
Meanwhile, a Vitamin Bl2 deficiency results in anemia as it's needed to form the red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body. This too can have lasting effects on your psychological state as anemia often manifests as depression as well as a feeling of exhaustion, mood swings, and paranoia. As a micronutrient B12 works closely with folate, or folic acid, a substance used for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, which provokes similar effects on mood and energy levels when neglected. Ensuring we're getting enough of these B vitamins in our systems is a basic - if essential - way to guard against drops in the quality of our mental health.
As a mineral that regulates synaptic processes, a lack of zinc has also been linked to depression. The brain is the biggest zinc depository in our body, with the hippocampus using it to modulate the brain's - and by extension, the body's - response to stress. As our bodies have difficulty storing the micronutrient, getting regular amounts of it in our diet is very important.
This is not to mention that a well-rounded dose of vitamins and minerals helps with processes - like memory, sleep, and hormone production - that have a significant domino effect on your psychological state. A lack of sleep, for instance, is so closely associated with poor mental wellbeing that it's often difficult to identify which one is causing the other.
So while mental health is a hugely complicated issue, influenced by many factors often beyond our control, there are lifestyle choices we can make that help us towards a better, stronger state of mind. Getting enough nutrients in our diet is one such achievable goal and makes a huge difference not just to our brain, but every part of our bodies - which is definitely food for thought.