It seems we are always in the midst of some sort of crisis whether it be financial, healthcare, environmental or educational. But what about mental health? Is it time to acknowledge we have a mental health crisis? Can the rise of depression and anxiety help explain the rise and popularity of self-care rituals and products? More and more we are looking inward for answers.
Conditions concerning the nervous system range from anxiety and depression to PMS, Multiple Sclerosis and sleep disorders. An imbalanced nervous system can be due to chemical or emotional factors. In most cases, it is a combination of both. Hence, a diversified approach involving psychological treatment and nutritional and lifestyle modification will often be the most effective approach. Some of the many benefits of a healthy mind involve increased productivity, improved stress management and reduced reactivity. A nutrient dense diet is a simple and easy place to start improving your mood as it is the main thing we can manage daily.
Afflictions of the nervous system have multifactorial roots so I will be dividing this topic into two sections. The first will explore the role of a few key nutrients in nervous system imbalances and the second will discuss the importance of keeping fit and maintaining sleep hygiene.
Magnesium is found in our bones, blood and soft tissue. It is mostly known for its ability to relieve muscle tension. However, magnesium has hundreds of different roles in the body because it acts as a ‘starter’ for many chemical reactions that occur. A deficiency of magnesium can result in a state of increased nervousness, irritability and a heightened state of anxiety. In naturopathic medicine, magnesium is a go-to mineral for soothing a frazzled nervous system. In many ways, it is nature’s gentle sedative. Sources of magnesium include cacao, green leafy vegetables, activated nuts and seeds.
Choline is essential for healthy membrane function and methylation. The body needs choline to produce acetylcholine which is an important neurotransmitter for memory and concentration. Foods high in choline include pastured eggs, organic liver, seafood and grass-fed beef. It should also be noted that choline is necessary for optimal cognitive development in children.
Vitamin B6 It should come as no surprise that the foods we consume can affect our minds. Our brain is a complex organ in which food allergies and allergies in general can upset the delicate balance of chemicals that it depends on for homeostasis. Notably, there is a higher incidence of individuals with depression who also exhibit allergy symptoms. It has been proposed that exposure to allergens may further trigger mood changes in individuals at risk of depression. Artificial flavourings, colourings and additives are some of the most common allergy inducing ingredients that directly impact mood and energy.
Allergies is a topic that deserves its own conversation but, in a nutshell, vitamin B6 given in combination with vitamin C, can help alleviate mild cerebral allergy symptoms. This of course must be done in conjunction with elimination of the aggravating ingredients. Adequate levels of vitamin B6 is usually marked by improved dream recall! Sources of B6 include pastured eggs, organic liver, potatoes, fish, organic poultry and bananas.
Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) are a necessary part of human development and ongoing repair, particularly for the central nervous system. For instance, behavioural and learning disorders are associated with a lower intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Fats are an essential source of energy for the body and can be a powerful weapon against chronic inflammation, depression and PMS.
Our bodies cannot manufacture EFAs so we must acquire them from dietary sources. EFAs fall into two main categories: Omega-3 and Omega-6. The latter is much more prevalent in food, so I like my clients to focus their attention on Omega-3 rich foods such as leafy green vegetables, oily fish such as sardines, anchovies and mackerel, shellfish, eggs, and grass-fed meat.
Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein and precursors (raw material) for neurotransmitters. Bone broth, for example, contains an abundance of amino acids. Bone broth has a myriad of health benefits some of which directly benefit mood, brain health and sleep. Broth is rich in the amino acid Glycine which can help reduce anxiety, promote restful sleep and improve mental clarity. The gelatinous component of broth is also useful for promoting gut repair. It has been well established that digestive disorders such as IBS and Leaky Gut can result in depression and anxiety disorders.
As you can see, a nutrient dense diet plays a key role in the management of nervous system imbalances. In part 2, we will explore the role of lifestyle factors in facilitating a healthy mind.