By Jess Young
The direct answer to that question is ABSOLUTELY!
It’s no secret that there is an epidemic of anxiety and depression that is sweeping our world today. More and more people are battling in their minds from a younger age, and for a longer time. The chances are that if you haven’t struggled with mental health issues yourself, then you know someone who has – but what if told you that you can significantly help your mental health by choosing your food wisely?
Growing up, I had many friends who walked the journey of, and became blinded by, the struggles of mental health issues. I watched as they slowly lost focus of all the good around them and could only see one thing: darkness. I saw how drastically depression & anxiety ruled and ruined much of their lives to a point where I wanted to do more than just 'be there' for them. I wanted to know how to make it stop, or even just make it better - for a simple way of putting it.
I was convinced that the food we ate played more of a role in mental health than we realised, and that instead of turning to harsh medications as the only option, we could use what was provided for us from the beginning. Throw back to 5 years ago when I began my studies in a Bachelor of Nutrition with a Major in Psychology - people thought I was crazy for studying two things that had nothing to do with each other: "What are you going to do with that?" they'd always ask. Still to this day people ask why I studied what I did, yet only now is this intersection between Nutrition and Psychology becoming more common knowledge.
The truth is, food plays much more of a role in our minds than we previously realised. Your brain, like the rest of your body needs nourishment from the nutrients in food, and without proper nourishment, will fail to look after you the way it should. Many are aware of and understand the connection between nutritional deficiencies and physical illness, but few understand that the same nutritional deficiencies can also lead to mental illness. Now obviously, mental health is extremely complex and there can be numerous reasons as to why someone develops depression or anxiety, so I am aware that nutrition is just one element – but imagine how much better you could process the events in your life if your brain had all the nourishment it needed to help you!
So – enough with the introduction – let’s get to real reason you’re here! Your mood, motivation, ambitions, sleep, emotions and many, many other things are regulated daily by chemicals in your brain called ‘neurotransmitters’. Although there are many neurotransmitters, the ones that you would have heard of (& those we will focus on) are dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine and serotonin send specific messages between your brain cells and are directly responsible for the regulation of things such as your mood; without them, or when they get low, it can very quickly lead to things like depression and anxiety. Like all processes in your body – as I mentioned earlier – these chemicals are dependent on and actually MADE from nutrients found in food, in particular, one you will all be familiar with: PROTEIN. Bet you didn’t see that one coming!
The chemicals in your brain that regulate your mood are made from proteins. This means, that including protein at every meal is extremely important if you want to ensure there is enough resources to make enough of these chemicals so that your brain can function as it should. Another interesting point to make is that 95% of serotonin is actually made in your small intestine, which then opens another door into the importance of looking after your gut health! Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll cover 5 easy ways that you can eat your way to a healthy mind, and give you some practical things you can implement straight away.
I am extremely passionate about seeing people live out their full God-given potential, and see all those dreams they have hidden in their heart come to pass. I know full well that when you struggle with depression and anxiety, sometimes it can become difficult to see clearly the dreams and plans that God has for your life. But I want you to know today, Jesus came to open the eyes of blind, and far too many people are blinded by their mental illness. Jesus wants you to see clearly again – see his plan for your life, see the relationships he’s blessed you with, see the people who you’ll lead to him one day. Remember that God doesn’t fail; if there is a situation in your life that you don’t understand, or a season that seems as though it doesn’t quite fit, be assured that he uses EVERYTHING for good. Continue to praise, continue to pray, and continue to uplift the plan for your life to God knowing that you can TRUST he knows when you don’t. TRUST that you are not on the wrong path, or taken a wrong turn but that his vision and wisdom supersedes what you can’t see or understand. TRUST that he knows you better than you know yourself, and remember that God doesn’t fail.
Jess Young is a degree-qualified Nutritionist passionate about relieving Mental Health Illness. You can learn more about Jess at Young Consumption or follow her at @youngconsumption. Read 5 Ways to Eat Yourself to a Healthy Mind by Jess.