The drivers of mental health - and mental ill-health - are complex. A 'biopsychosocial approach' to mental health considers the biological, psychological and social influences.
A focus on nutrition is aimed at the biological drivers of mental health. Nutrition is not intended to replace psychological and social support, but rather to complement them, holistically.
Below I will explain how inflammation and gut health can influence our mental health and how to reduce these physiological drivers of depression.
The link between depression and inflammation
Inflammation is an immune system response to a perceived threat in the body.
In small doses, inflammation is incredibly helpful in healing such problems as infections, wounds and tissue damage. But relentless, chronic inflammation is at the heart of all chronic disease - including depression.
In depression, the underlying inflammation is caused by an over-active stress response and excessive immune system activity.
The physical effects of chronic inflammation in depression include:
Increased cortisol, the stress hormone - via the “HPA-axis” stress response
Low serotonin, the “happy” neurotransmitter
Damage to neurons and decreased production of new neurons (neurogenesis)
Not only does depression produce a chronic inflammatory response in the body – the contrary can also be true - inflammation in the body can make the brain less resilient to stress and depression.
The triggers of chronic inflammation can be linked to our modern lifestyle: chronic stress, toxins, unhealthy diet, insufficient sleep and a sedentary lifestyle.
The empowering news is that we can affect these factors through healthy dietary and lifestyle choices. Taking steps to dampen this inflammation may improve your mental resilience to stress.
A recent meta-analysis has linked the Western diet with increased risk of depression, and a healthy diet with a decreased risk (Psychiatry Research, 2017).
The gut-brain connection
In addition to the central nervous system (comprised of the brain and spinal cord), we have a distinct nervous system in the gut - called the enteric nervous system. These two nervous systems communicate with each other and bidirectionally (both up and down).
Recent research has linked gut microbiome imbalances with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Bacteria in the gut communicate to the central nervous system through various channels involving the nervous, hormonal (endocrine) and immune systems.
In the other direction, the brain can affect the structure and function of the gut bacteria by controlling the movement of food through the digestive tract, intestinal secretion and gut permeability.
Research shows that depressed patients have imbalanced gut bacteria compared with healthy persons. Poor digestion and nutrient malabsorption are common in persons with mental health issues.
What if change feels REALLY HARD at the moment?
Burnout, depression and anxiety can rob us of the energy we need to make dietary and lifestyle changes. If this is how you are feeling – then just take small steps, as you feel possible.
Working together, we would take only the steps you are able to comfortably and sustainably make. Those small steps add up.
Working with a Nutritional Therapist
A qualified Nutritional Therapist can help to unravel the extensive information obtained through detailed functional lab testing and a thorough medical history.
I can help to plan a course of action, including diet and lifestyle recommendations. Supplements may be considered, for example: nutrients, enzymes, amino acids, neurotransmitters, plants and herbs.
I’ll provide a step-by-step programme based on your needs and taking into account your constraints, to make things as straight-forward and sustainable as possible. And we will utilise NLP coaching to accompany you in making lasting behavioural changes.
To learn more about my approach to mental health and resilience, please see my pages on Nutrition for Brain Health and What to Expect from a nutritional consultation.