Inflammation, and mood foods
It all connects back to the gut, the brain and inflammation.
Better nutrition for better moods
Is there something special or anti-inflammatory about the foods used in the SMILES trial (see my previous posts) that may help with moods?
We know the brain needs enough of all essential nutrients in order to function properly. And insufficient levels are linked with the stress response and the immune response.
NOTE: Eating nutrient-dense foods is the best way to get nutrition. Foods are complex combinations of nutrients. Even though I am about to break down nutrients, supplementing with individual nutrients is not the same as eating a healthy diet.
Let’s go over a few key nutrients for better moods.
B-vitamins such as B6, B9 (folic acid), and B12
People who tend to be low in B-vitamins are more likely to have mental health issues. Higher intakes of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (cobalamin) may reduce risk.
With folic acid in particular, the connection may be due to its different forms. “Folic acid” is the inactive form of vitamin B9. Our bodies naturally converted it into the active form (called L-methylfolate) by the enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR).
Once folic acid has been activated, it goes to the brain and is used to make neurotransmitters like serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.
Interestingly, many people with mental health issues are unable to convert folic acid into its active form.
One study tested supplements with the active form of folic acid (L-methylfolate) on people with mental health issues. While some people had a moderate improvement, the people who also had inflammation (higher levels of CRP) had an even greater improvement.
In my mom’s group I hear other moms tell each other: “feeling blue? You might be low in D.” Vitamin D is well known to help absorb calcium for strong bones, but has many other functions too. In terms of immunity, vitamin D can reduce inflammatory molecules in people with certain infections and inflammatory diseases.
Vitamin D has a number of roles within the brain. Vitamin D plays a role in circadian rhythms and sleep, and influences the growth of nerve cells in the developing brain.
There is growing evidence that people who tend to be low in vitamin D also tend to have more mental health symptoms. In fact, some (but not all) studies show that vitamin D supplementation can improve mood scores and reduce mental health symptoms.
Vitamin D is the most commonly deficient nutrient in Western countries. It’s known as the “sunshine vitamin” because our skin makes it when exposed to sunlight. It is also found in a few foods, and as a supplement.
Minerals (Calcium & Selenium)
Low intake of calcium is associated with mental health symptoms, while high intake is associated with lower rates of mental health symptoms.
Depression has been associated with low blood levels of the essential mineral selenium. Low intake of selenium is also associated with an increased risk for depression.
[Note: I am particularly “into” selenium because it helped enormously to bring my auto-antibodies down from above 5000 to about 300.]
Omega-3 oils are healthy fats found in many foods such as seafood, nuts, legumes, and leafy greens. They have been shown to reduce inflammation.
Some (but not all) studies suggest that the omega-3 fats, specifically those found in fish and fish oil, have mental health benefits. You can also get these fatty acids from algae, a vegan source that is also more likely to be clean and free from contaminants.
Better lifestyle for better moods
Foods aren’t the only thing that can be upgraded to improve your mental health and inflammation. Your lifestyle can have a big role too!
Both exercise and sleep are important factors that can improve moods and inflammation. Exercise we know is a magic pill. Sleep, though, is HIGHLY underrated.
Lifestyle factor #1 – Exercise
People with mental health issues are more likely to lead sedentary lives. This is another factor that can increase levels of chronic inflammation.
There is a lot of evidence that exercise helps to reduce the risk, and symptoms, of mental health issues. Regular exercise reduces inflammation. We know this because CRP levels are lower in people who regularly exercise, than those who do not. Plus, people who exercise at a higher intensity have even lower levels of CRP.
I encourage you to reduce the amount of time you are sedentary, and take active breaks.
Lifestyle factor #2 – Sleep
Sleep plays a vital role in our physical and mental health. Lack of enough high quality sleep is very commonly associated with mental health issues. People who experience insomnia are at higher risk for later developing mental health issues.
Lower amounts of sleep can affect the immune system and increase chronic inflammation. Increasing levels of CRP and inflammatory cytokines have been measured with sleep deprivation.
If you’re not getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night, start trying to make it a priority.
Read my post on Sleep Hygiene here!
So, in summary, eating a nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory diet, and getting regular exercise and quality sleep can help to reduce inflammation, and improve mental and overall health.
It’s an exciting area of research that will continue to answer more questions about this link.
In the meantime, try eating a more health-promoting (anti-inflammatory) diet, and getting enough nutrients, exercise, and sleep.
NOTE: None of these are a substitute for professional medical advice.
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