How to Manage Depression and Anxiety with Nutrition

By January 27, 2017Mental Health
Nutrition helps mental health

Depression and anxiety are very much states of mind, existing psychologically. Yes, it is logical to think that what you eat is very far removed from how you think. But, chemical components also influence how you think. 

Just look at the way pharmaceutical drugs work to alleviate depression. Look at how medicinal herbs alleviate depression. They don’t offer counselling to address your mood, they offer chemistry.

Now, Im not going to say you can address all depression and anxiety chemically. There are emotional and spiritual components that exist within the matrix. But I am suggesting management of depression and anxiety with nutrition from a chemical standpoint.

Why?

We are all familiar with the ‘chemical deficiencies’ that exist with depression and anxiety. But, we are not certain whether these are causative or a result of these states of mind.

Depression and anxiety manifest themselves as negative, worrisome, self defeating thoughts. Typically they manifest as a continual narrative, accompanied by ‘chemical deficiencies’. Pharmaceutical interventions target these ‘deficiencies’ with mixed outcomes. Often they come with side effects, addiction, and even exacerbation of these conditions.

A few people can experience some respite from these conditions by altering their chemistry, be it Pharmaceutical or herbal. This would mean their thoughts would have changed as a result, altering their internal monologue.

This makes sense. There is a correlation between negative thoughts and chemical deficiency, regardless if it is a cause or effect of depressive, anxious states of mind.

Nutrition Has Always Been There For Us 

Im not going to highlight drugs be they pharmaceutical or otherwise, rather nutrition. Some manufactured drugs tend to target linear pathways which could have interactions in a non linear fashion. This opens them to unexpected effects. 

Instead of introducing isolated chemicals into a body that may not know how to recognise them properly; we can handle the issue with familiar chemistry. The complex and complimentary chemistry of food offer a solution. Our bodies have become very acquainted with foods over the couple hundred thousand years we have been interacting with them.

A relatively new understanding of the development of depression and anxiety is emerging. One that you all know, but might not love – Inflammation.

Inflammation of the brain occurs in people with depression and anxiety. This isn’t surprising as inflammation underpins an astounding number of diseases. Depression is also considered a chronic disease.

Inflammation and Blood Sugar 

blood suagr spikes cause inflammation

Inflammation can alter neurotransmission in the brain. This is the way the brain communicates with itself, with neurotransmitters. You have your Dopamine, Serotonin, GABA, Glutamate, Acetylcholine. Neurotransmission is the chemical balance we refer to when we talk about chemical deficiencies. These are also know as imbalances with relation to mental illness.

Additionally, Inflammation can alter nueroendocrine function and regional brain activity.

Inflammation is becoming a focus in understanding mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Inflammation may not be behind the anxiety many of us experience due to the lost connection to nature and one another. Or the depression many experience from a lack of purpose, fulfilment or joy. The spiritual and emotional components of the matrix. But, you can bet your ass that what we eat could be influencing inflammation.

Now, the thing with inflammation is that it is strongly induced by environmental factors, diet being one of the most significant. Inflammatory foods continue to accumulate in our food system. Many of us are none the wiser which ones they are. 

One of the ways inflammation can come about is through spikes in blood sugar, and insulin. If this happens regularly, you have chronic inflammation.

What Causes spikes?

Spikes are in part caused by carbohydrates. Mostly refined carbohydrates, which constitute an alarming portion of western diets.

High carbohydrate diets that rapidly raise blood sugar are associated with markers of systemic inflammation.

Yes we all know that sugar is bad for you, but the problem extends beyond sugar. Grains are carbohydrates, where white flour comes from. Think cookies, biscuits, cakes, scones, crumpets, breads, pasta, pizza. These all boil down to the simple sugar, Glucose.

The refinement of our foods means that many of these grains and flour products are devoid of:

a) fibre and b) phytonutrients which allow for a controlled uptake of glucose.

So what happens?

Boom, your blood sugar goes through the roof. This signals floods of insulin to rapidly allocate the sugar into cells to prevent hyperglycaemia.

You probably already know that obesity and diabetes eventually occurs by this mechanism. Cells eventually become resistant to the action of insulin.

The problem extends beyond metabolic complications. The hormonal changes from chronic spikes in blood sugar can lead to inflammation.

It is recognised that a pro-inflammatory diet is associated with the development of depression.

Omega Overload

Compounding the effects on blood sugar, grains like wheat also pack a degree of omega-6 fatty acid.

This is beneficial when eaten in a ratio of 3:1 with omega-3 fatty acids. But relative to omega-6, omega-3 FA in the western diet is lacking. The large consumption of grains containing omega-6 Fatty acids promotes inflammation.

Omega-6 is inflammatory, Omega-3 anti-inflammatory. When sufficient omega-3 exists in the diet, omega-6 is actually beneficial for us.

Know Your Carbs

2016 Nutritional guidelines outline the recommended consumption for food groups, including carbohydrates.

Reproduced with permission of Public Health England

As you can see, the guidelines suggest sourcing whole wheat products, high in fibre. These recommendations are on point. However, some of these flour products may still be devoid of their full nutrient profile and may not be ‘whole’ grain.

Nutrients are still lost from the cracking of grains. Some flours get fortified or enriched with nutrients for this reason. Particularly in white breads and cereals.

After fortification, the nutrient profile of white and whole grain flours are relatively similar. But, does this elicit a different response?

When compared to white bread, whole wheat seems to be better, but can still fail to produce a significantly better blood sugar response. A systematic analysis showed little significant difference between the glycemic index and glycemic load of white four and whole wheat bread of a particular brand. 

The Glycemic Index refers to the degree a carbohydrate raises blood sugar. Glycemic Load is the measure of carbohydrate content of a food in relation to the degree it raises blood sugar levels. These values determine the effect of a given food on blood sugar spikes.

Stone Milled vs Roller Milled Grains

Type of flour aside, what about the refining process, does this make a difference? If there is one nuance of food quality that determines its impact on health, its the refining process.

Traditionally, grains passed through a stone mill to obtain flour. This produces a dark, strong flour which leaves most of the germ and bran within.

Today, most supermarkets stock roller milled flour. This is an industrialised process which takes half as long and enables the flour to keep for longer. The downside is that it lacks the very essence of the grain – the bran and germ.

Whole grain flour is still roller milled, and is only classed as ‘whole grain’ because the bran and germ is added back to the white four.

But, is this as good as taking the time and care to preserve the original bran and germ found with stone milling?

This is an important detail. Higher glycemic responses from refined grains produces greater inflammation. This contributes to an astounding number of diseases, including depression and anxiety.

A study compared traditional stone milling vs industrially milled flours on glycemic response. The findings suggested a significantly higher glycemic response with the industrially milled flours which was attributed to the smaller particle size after milling.

They concluded that a larger particle size produced from stone milled grains elicited a lower glycemic response.

Another study found that ultra-fine grounds of whole wheat bread did not result in lower glycemic responses than white bread. It may be that particle size is a key factor in influencing glycemic responses.

It is therefore of paramount importance to focus on the nutritional responses to refining. This should be the focus over the financial incentives that come with an expedited process.

Takeaways

takeaways
  • Be conscious of your grain consumption – keep processed/refined grains to an absolute minimum/none.
  • Eat grains in their whole state – not milled at all, truly whole. If eating flour products, watch the amount and ideally, make it stone milled. 
  • Source abundant fibre from plants. Plants like leafy greens and root vegetables supply a great amount of fibre. They also come with a full blend of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, unlike those lost in flour.
  • Ensure a healthy consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids. Sardines, Mussels, Salmon, Hemp seeds, Chia seeds, Walnuts, Almonds, cold pressed seeds oils.
  • Increase consumption of anti-inflammatory plants. Leafy greens, root veg, brassicas, fruits, peppers, avocados, salad greens, sprouts……
  • Consider a ketogenic diet. Most of your energy comes from fat, moderate protein and minimal sugar. This is a great option for minimising carbohydrates and allowing fat to efficiently regulate blood sugar, which can affect your mood.

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