We proactively focus on our physical health but we hardly pay attention to our mental health. Generally, we do not feel the urge to understand or discuss our mental wellness. Some of us feel it to be a taboo topic and never wish to even check the mental well-being parameters while going for routine full body checkup plans. Though the brain governs our actions, behaviour, and whole life, taking care of its good health always takes a back seat.
Mental fitness is the key component of our good health. It helps us to manage daily stress, maintain stability in life and pursue a positive attitude. In the present era, mental disorders are becoming a major public health issue globally. Studies report that psychiatric illness attributes to approx 13% of the global burden of disease in terms of disability-adjusted life years, which is equivalent to cardiovascular and circulatory diseases.
After analysing the Indian population, researchers have found that almost 200 million people are suffering from a mental disorder, which includes 45·7 million with depressive disorders and 44·9 million with anxiety disorders. Research has shown that patients with mental illness are at more risk for metabolic syndrome, cardiac illness, endocrinal disorders, and respiratory infections due to medications and an adaptation to an unhealthy lifestyle.
Neuropsychiatric disorders are some of the most serious societal challenges of the modern era. Data have shown that the burden of mood disorders, stress-induced cognitive vulnerabilities and psychiatric disorders will continue to rise globally over the coming decades.
Therefore it is essential to manage well this increasing trend of mental disorders or else it will disturb the quality of life and lead to more disabled disoriented lives. If not handled properly at the correct time, mental disorders can increase suicide rates, absenteeism from work and disrupt overall human functioning. As May is the “mental health awareness month”, this is the ideal time to take extra effort to understand the basics of mental wellbeing.
What are mental disorders?
Also known as psychiatric disorders, are a group of complications which disturbs the power of positive thinking, emotional stability and normal healthy behaviour. Common mental disorders include bipolar disorders, panic disorders, depression, dementia, schizophrenia, and panic disorders.
How do nutritional factors influence mental disorders?
A healthy lifestyle plays a pivotal role in maintaining a healthy mind. Dietary balance is important to maintain overall good health. Food and diet are key contributing determinants to mental health that need immediate attention. Nutrition intake and its quality have a direct impact on the brain’s working capacity. Brain composition, structure and functioning are dependent on the continuous availability of nutrients like lipids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. The composition of diet affects mental health, mood, thinking power, nerve functioning and behaviour.
Nutrient deficiencies and their impact on mental health
Mostly nutrient deficiencies arise due to
- picky eating habits,
- lack of variety in the diet,
- poor absorption due to medications or bacterial overgrowth,
- avoidance of food groups due to allergies,
- intolerance or preference,
- physical limitations,
- poor appetite
- unhealthy eating habit due to stressful busy lifestyle.
Deficiency of Vitamin B12 causes fatigue, lethargy, depression, poor memory and sometimes mania and psychosis. Vitamin B deficiency causes numbness. Folic acid deficiency increases the risk of depression. Vitamin B3 deficiency may lead to dementia.
A balanced healthy diet, rich in polyphenols, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and nutritional supplements including vitamins, improves mental health, including understanding capacity, thinking process, mood and stress management.
Nutrients and their role in brain functioning
- Carbohydrates: Provides glucose, which is the preferred energy source for brain nerve cells. Eating carbohydrates triggers the release of insulin that helps blood glucose enter the cells and hence affecting neurotransmitters level in the body.
- Fat: About 35% of the brain and nervous system tissue comprises polyunsaturated fatty acids (essential fatty acids), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These healthy lipids play an important role in brain signal transmission.
- Protein: Provide amino acids; the precursors of neurotransmitters, and therefore facilitates neurotransmission and neuromodulation.
- Vitamins: Helps the production of several important neurotransmitters and supports normal healthy brain and mental functioning.
- Minerals: Assists in brain cell development and maintaining its integrity. Also crucial for nerve signalling and offers protection at the time of stress.
What are the healthy eating tips for good mental health?
- Eat a balanced amount of fruits, vegetables, low-fat fish and dairy products, whole grain carbohydrates, nuts, pulses and legumes
- Make healthy food choices like replacing refined carbohydrates with complex carbohydrates, high fat processed junk food with homemade fresh food and high saturated fat with refined vegetable oils
- Do not overindulge in any particular nutrient and always eat everything in moderation
- Eat less, easy to grab low nutrient calorie-dense food options
- Try to set small healthy goals at a time like eating vegetables at every meal and eating two pieces of fruit a day
- Always start with positive food goals like adding good foods rather than restricting not so good foods
- Maintain a food diary and try to find out the link between food eaten and the mood felt
- Identify triggers that increase the craving for unhealthy food options and learn to tackle them with healthy options
- Build healthy family mealtime relationships and use the eating time to talk to loved ones rather than gazing at distracting digital options
- Learn to not mix a bad day mood with a good mealtime experience
Eating balanced healthy meals including a variety of nutrients regularly helps build and support strong positive mental health. This also helps maintain a stable mindset during life’s major stressful situations. So it is always mindful to proactively identify unhealthy mental health at the right time, take the appropriate expert advice without hesitation and manage life in a better way.
- Clin Nutr Res. 2016 Jul;5(3):143-152
- Int J Cur Res Rev | Vol 12, Issue 23, December 2020
- European Neuropsychopharmacology (2019) 29, 1321–1332
- THE ROLE OF NUTRITION IN MENTAL HEALTH PROMOTION AND PREVENTION. www.dieticians.ca